The North American Indian (1907-1930)
This publication follows the nineteenth-century Euro-American tradition of capturing the “otherness” of indigenous American Indian life in photography and narrative chronicles. It is set apart by its ambitious scale, and by the striking effect of its images, which are essentially contrived reconstructions rather than true documentation.
Originally planned for five years, the complicated project was slowed by prohibitive expenses. Public reception was mixed. Less than half of 500 projected sets were printed. Scholars, while interested in staff notes on vocabulary and lore, were dubious of Curtis’s methods of observation. In the 1970s the photographs began to enjoy a nostalgic revival in reprints, and have had a lasting, if controversial, influence on views of the American Indian.
Edward S. Curtis
Edward S. Curtis was an entrepreneur, photographer, and enthusiast who dedicated much of his career to an idealized goal of recording traditional American Indian customs. His opinion of Indians as a primitive other race reflects the majority American perspective following the “conquest” of the west, promoting a “myth of a vanishing race, with the notion that Indians are historical features of an American landscape, not functioning members in a modern society”. [Beck, “The Myth of the Vanishing Race”, in Edward S. Curtis in Context]