Edward S. Curtis

Edward S. Curtis, Self Portrait

Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) left an indelible mark on the history of photography in his 20-volume life’s work, The North American Indian, an American legacy that is an artistic masterpiece.  Part photographic essay, part ethnographic survey, and part work of art, Curtis’ North American Indian project represented an attempt to capture images of American Indians as they lived before contact with Anglo cultures. The photogravure prints in The North American Indian reveal peoples whose traditional ways of life were coming to an end as the U.S. frontier began to fade.  The Vanishing Race image below represented this transition due to its title more than any other of Curtis’ images.

The Vanishing Race, Navajo

“Curtis took over 40,000 photographs, the largest photographic documentary of an indigenous culture ever attempted and accomplished, during the five decades Curtis spent documenting Native American life and customs in the West.  No other photograph (The Vanishing Race) emulates the overall understanding Curtis wished us all to have – Native American culture with its customs and traditions were vanishing, not the people themselves.”

– Chris Webster

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