About the Photographer
Curtis, Edward S.
Funded by industrialist J. P. Morgan and with a foreword by Theodore Roosevelt, the first volume of Edward S. Curtis' The North American Indian was published in 1907. The ethnographic intent of the project is made clear by the text and research featured along side the pictures and largely collected during the photographic journeys, but the motivation of the project remains complicated, if not problematic. Curtis' vision was to portray the historic Native American rather than the people he actually encountered, and in so doing he downplayed or even ignored the contemporary elements by then incorporated into their lives, injecting the photographs with his own notions of their past. The figure in the thirteenth volume's Hupa Trout-Trap, for example, dons the same loincloth also used in other pictures to costume members of different tribes. Stylistic influence is equally notable in these pictures. The dark void that surrounds the face in The Yuma, a plate in the second volume, recalls the mid-nineteenth century Japanese woodblock prints so admired and emulated by twentieth century Pictorialists. The series concluded in 1930 with the twentieth and final volume. Each volume in the series has photogravures interleafed with the text, and is accompanied by a folio of approximately thirty larger prints. The photogravures represented in the Museum of Contemporary Photography's collection are of the latter group.
Edward Sheriff Curtis was born in Whitewater, Wisconsin in 1868. He grew up in Cordova, Minnesota before moving to the Washington territory in 1887. In 1891 he bought into a photographic studio in Seattle, and by the turn of the century had begun to photograph Native American ceremonies and people. Curtis moved to Los Angeles in 1920, where he financed his fieldwork with still photographs and cinematography for the Hollywood studios. Curtis died in Los Angeles, California in 1952.