The North American Indian : the complete portfolios Edward S. Curtis


Following the publicity surrounding Martin Scorsese’s film Killers of the Flower Moon that plunges into the horror of the killing of the Native American Osage Nation to access their land, it is positive to remember that American photographer and ethnographer Edward S. Curtis devoted 30 years of his life to document the traditions of the North American Indian tribes. His project carried out from 1895 to 1928 was supported by Roosevelt and partly financed by the railway tycoon John Pierpont Morgan. When Curtis started his project the American Indians were already confined in reservations. He ended up visiting 80 tribes and took 40,000 negatives, interviewed the American Indians on their traditions, transcribed their oral history and even recorded songs in order to document their languages and dialects. Although the resulting photographs were criticised at the time for their idealised vision of the American Indians, it represents today an incredible legacy of their vanished culture. Roosevelt presciently observed that “The Indian, as an Indian, is on the point of perishing, and when he has become a United States citizen, though it will be a much better thing for him and for the rest of the country, he will completely lose his value as a living historical document.”

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