AirTalk for November 22, 2012

The man who made American Indians live forever

"Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher" by TImothy Egan

Edward Curtis, armed only with a camera and a sixth-grade education, managed to make an invaluable contribution to American history and photography. As a child in the late 1800s he built his own camera, and in his teenage years he was already working as an apprentice photographer in Minnesota. He then moved to Seattle, where he bought a new camera and quickly became the country’s premier portrait photographer—the Annie Leibovitz of his time.

He was so successful at his profession that he earned the respect and attention of President Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan, who both went on to become his biggest backers artistically and financially. In fact, Roosevelt hired Curtis to shoot the wedding of his daughter, Alice.

But Curtis had bigger plans than being a celebrity photographer, he wanted to document the life and culture of American Indians all across the continent. He spent three decades traveling the country, living with tribes and gaining their trust. As a sign of the artist’s patience and fortitude, he waited for ten years until the Hopi allowed him into their sacred Snake Dance ceremony.

By the end of his efforts, Curtis had compiled over 40,000 photographs, captured 10,000 audio recordings, and earned the credit of creating the world’s first documentary film. Pulitizer Prize-winning writer Timothy Egan tackles this man and his life in “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.”

Guest:

Timothy Egan, author of “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis,” Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the New York Times and winner of the National Book Award for “The Worst Hard Time”

 


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