Edward S. Curtis, a professional photographer in Seattle, devoted his life to documenting what he perceived to be a vanishing race. His monumental work The North American Indian was published between 1907 and 1930 and contained over 2000 photogravures in its volumes and portfolios.
It's been documented that Curtis received $75,000 to create a portfolio of photography for JP Morgan. He then repayed them with 25 sets and 500 original prints.
This was to be a job for Curtis, but it turned into an ethnographic research study. He recorded tribal lore and history, and he described traditional foods, housing, garments, recreation, ceremonies, and funeral customs. He wrote biographical sketches of tribal leaders, and his material, in most cases, is the only recorded history.
To many anthropologists, Curtis is a manipulator of history. Why? He was seen as portraying Native Americans in a more westernized state. However, at the time, many Native Americans had actively embraced the new western culture, while others were living in horrible conditions.
From my standpoint, I can't help but wonder, why manipulate a culture distinct on it's own? Why create an atmosphere of perfection when imperfection makes photography more lifelike.
© The copyright is in the public domain
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