North American Indian Portraits by Edward S. Curtis.
The North American Indian by Edward S. Curtis is one of the most significant and controversial representations of traditional American Indian culture ever produced. Issued in a limited edition from 1907-1930, the publication continues to exert a major influence on the image of Indians in popular culture. Curtis said he wanted to document “the old time Indian, his dress, his ceremonies, his life and manners.” In over 2000 photogravure plates and narrative, Curtis portrayed the traditional customs and lifeways of eighty Indian tribes. The twenty volumes, each with an accompanying portfolio, are organized by tribes and culture areas encompassing the Great Plains, Great Basin, Plateau Region, Southwest, California, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. Featured here are all of the published photogravure images including over 1500 illustrations bound in the text volumes, along with over 700 portfolio plates.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Edward S. Curtis set out to document what he saw as a disappearing race: the Native American. From 1907 to 1930, Curtis took more than 2,000 photos of 80 tribes stretching from the Great Plains to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. He then published and sold these photos, along with narrative text, in 20 volumes of work known as “The North American Indian”. It is one of the most significant collections of its kind, “probably the most important photographic document of its age and its topic,” said Jeffrey Garrett, associate university librarian for Special Libraries at Northwestern University. But “there is still a lot of reluctance to accept the Curtis images as being historically valid”, Garrett said. For starters, all the images were staged. “These are not snapshots,” Garrett said. “There is a clear lack of spontaneity. People were instructed to dress up for the shot, so they’re in their tribal finery”. Some also perceive the collection as patronizing, a white man’s idealized view of Native Americans at the time.
North American Indian Portraits by Edward S. Curtis: