Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis

eBook - 2010
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"A vivid exploration of one man's lifelong obsession with an idea . . . Egan's spirited biography might just bring [Curtis] the recognition that eluded him in life." -- Washington Post

Edward Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer, and a famous portrait photographer, the Annie Leibovitz of his time. He moved in rarefied circles, a friend to presidents, vaudeville stars, leading thinkers. But when he was thirty-two years old, in 1900, he gave it all up to pursue his Great Idea: to capture on film the continent's original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared.

Curtis spent the next three decades documenting the stories and rituals of more than eighty North American tribes. It took tremendous perseverance -- ten years alone to persuade the Hopi to allow him to observe their Snake Dance ceremony. And the undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate. Curtis would amass more than 40,000 photographs and 10,000 audio recordings, and he is credited with making the first narrative documentary film. In the process, the charming rogue with the grade school education created the most definitive archive of the American Indian.

"A darn good yarn. Egan is a muscular storyteller and his book is a rollicking page-turner with a colorfully drawn hero." -- San Francisco Chronicle

"A riveting biography of an American original." - Boston Globe
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2010.
ISBN: 9780547840604
Branch Call Number: eBook
Characteristics: 352 p.
Additional Contributors: Axis 360 (Firm)


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Sep 08, 2018

I'm a photography and history buff so this book was right up my alley. I have seen Curtis's photographs but I never knew his story. This well written and researched book by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times writer Timothy Egan tells the stories behind his photographs and what it took to make them, then publish his monumental 20 volume "The North American Indian". It is riveting from start to finish. His all consuming quest to capture images of Native Americans before their cultures disappeared was a tough, incredible and self-sacrificing journey. His daunting attempts to find financial backing for this project are compelling. He obtained the assistance of others and raced against time, fearing that the knowledge Native Americans had would disappear completely. Not only photographing them, he documented their songs, languages and stories. Amazingly he gained the trust of Native Americans to photograph their world, even the opportunity to participate in some of their rituals. Not all his photographs were staged. His goal was to be authentic as possible. What also impressed me was his research for the truth about what really happened at the Battles of Little and Big Horn, which rewrote the history books. He preserved tribal myths, oral histories narratives and languages at a time when whites were trying to destroy the Native American World. It is truly a miracle he, a self-educated white man, accomplished all he did. Sadly this lifetime work took a toll on him. This book gave me a new appreciation and admiration of and gratitude to Edward Curtis, named the Shadow Catcher. Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday, brought to tears seeing a Curtis photo of Plains Indians on horseback, wrote the following of Curtis's work: "Never before have we seen the Indians of North American so close to the origins of their humanity, their sense of themselves in the world, their innate dignity and self-possession." One of the best books I've ever read. I am very much aware of the controversies about Curtis staging his photos. I wish those who criticize him would read this book. Not all the photos were staged. Curtis's goal was to capture realistic images whenever possible. In addition, Curtis went to great lengths and trouble to document many Native American languages and culture which would have been lost forever if not for his vision, dedication, and hard work. Some Native Americans use Curtis's records today to connect to their heritage and are grateful to him.

Apr 06, 2018

A wonderfully researched biography of self-taught photographer, documentarian, and archivist, Edward Curtis, whose life long obsession was to record and advocate for the
vanishing cultural legacy of 80 North American native tribes. Curtis' career led to his being championed by Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and many luminaries of the Gilded Age; but also to the dissolution of his marriage, estrangement from family members, bankrupt and largely forgotten at the end of his life. An insightful look at an extraordinary man who left Americans a monumental legacy.

Aug 03, 2016

A wonderful bio, full of adventure and pathos. Egan's a wonderful writer, as was Curtis. Curtis believed the Native American cultures were dying, and it was his task to document them as they were before European contact. Census data and the changes brought by missionaries and government agents made his predictions look true. While their numbers today are rising, Egan's interviews, sometimes with Curtis's family members, historians, or tribal members, show most agree with Curtis on the spiritual and cultural level. Living in Seattle, I was aware of Curtis, but had no idea of the extent of his accomplishments, or the price he paid for them. A wonderful book. Now to find a book with more of the pictures themselves.

Feb 29, 2016

This is a great audio book. The life of Edward Curtis and his work make wonderful listening.

Dec 07, 2015

Author Egan writes a readable account of the lifetime passion of Curtis to document the life of Native Americans. It's an amazing story but by the time one gets to the last volumes this story gets a little redundant. I'm looking forward to the new book, 'Edward S. Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks' by Christopher Cardozo, as Egan’s book has only a few of the pictures.

Oct 03, 2015

Well researched and well written. Inspiring and beautiful.

Mar 21, 2015

Very interesting both from an historical and psychological point of view. Historically interesting because of the association with T.Roosevelt, J.P.Morgan, and the Native American tribes. Psychologically interesting to observe the spending of his life for his obsession. Well written as Timothy Egan's books usually are.

Oct 02, 2014

And after reading Egan's great book, you should go visit the John Wilson Special Collections and take a look at the actual photogravures by Edward Curtis. In our special collections Multnomah County Library has all 20 volumes of plates and all 20 volumes of text. An extraordinary publication.

Jan 08, 2014

Superb book by Tim Egan describing the life and work of Edward Curtis, the Seattlite who took all the sepia-toned photos of Native Americans and First People in the late 1800's and well into the first half of the 20th Century. Amazingly enough, Curtis never made a dime off his monumental 20-volume work, which not only encompassed the photos, but also linguistic and other anthropological studies and precursors to movies. Funded primarily by mogul JP Morgan, Curtis was nonetheless constantly underfunded and died pretty much penniless. Read what made this man keep constantly on the road for decades, documenting numerous tribes in numerous states and Canada, when he was getting no financial compensation for his work. The book contains reproductions of several photos. A must read for anyone interested in the history of Native Americans, of the Pacific Northwest, and the development of mad genius.

tuesdayswithlori Jul 16, 2013

The writing in this is very entertaining. I wish that there had been more pictures that Ed Curtis had taken. It is fascinating to read the story and see the picture of the person who captured Curtis's attention. I felt at times the the biographer too liberties with his interpretation of thoughts and feelings that Curtis had, but I could just be wrongfully suspicious. Fascinating life.

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