Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis

Book - 2012
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How a lone man's epic obsession led to one of America's greatest cultural treasures: Prizewinning writer Timothy Egan tells the riveting, cinematic story behind the most famous photographs in Native American history -- and the driven, brilliant man who made them.
  Edward Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer, and a famous photographer, the Annie Leibovitz of his time. He moved in rarefied circles, a friend to presidents, vaudeville stars, leading thinkers. And he was thirty-two years old in 1900 when he gave it all up to pursue his Great Idea: to capture on film the continent's original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared.

An Indiana Jones with a camera, Curtis spent the next three decades traveling from the Havasupai at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the Acoma on a high mesa in New Mexico to the Salish in the rugged Northwest rain forest, documenting the stories and rituals of more than eighty tribes. It took tremendous perseverance -- ten years alone to persuade the Hopi to allow him into their Snake Dance ceremony. And the undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate. Eventually Curtis took more than 40,000 photographs, preserved 10,000 audio recordings, and is credited with making the first narrative documentary film. In the process, the charming rogue with the grade school education created the most definitive archive of the American Indian.

His most powerful backer was Theodore Roosevelt, and his patron was J. P. Morgan. Despite the friends in high places, he was always broke and often disparaged as an upstart in pursuit of an impossible dream. He completed his masterwork in 1930, when he published the last of the twenty volumes. A nation in the grips of the Depression ignored it. But today rare Curtis photogravures bring high prices at auction, and he is hailed as a visionary. In the end he fulfilled his promise: He made the Indians live forever.
Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.
ISBN: 9780618969029
Branch Call Number: 770. 92 CUR E
Characteristics: 370 p. : ill., ports. ; 24 cm.

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DorisWaggoner
Aug 03, 2016

A wonderful bio, full of adventure and pathos. Egan's a wonderful writer, as was Curtis. Curtis believed the Native American cultures were dying, and it was his task to document them as they were before European contact. Census data and the changes brought by missionaries and government agents made his predictions look true. While their numbers today are rising, Egan's interviews, sometimes with Curtis's family members, historians, or tribal members, show most agree with Curtis on the spiritual and cultural level. Living in Seattle, I was aware of Curtis, but had no idea of the extent of his accomplishments, or the price he paid for them. A wonderful book. Now to find a book with more of the pictures themselves.

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ppriceaz
Feb 29, 2016

This is a great audio book. The life of Edward Curtis and his work make wonderful listening.

e
EmilyEm
Dec 07, 2015

Author Egan writes a readable account of the lifetime passion of Curtis to document the life of Native Americans. It's an amazing story but by the time one gets to the last volumes this story gets a little redundant. I'm looking forward to the new book, 'Edward S. Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks' by Christopher Cardozo, as Egan’s book has only a few of the pictures.

b
brinyurchin
Oct 03, 2015

Well researched and well written. Inspiring and beautiful.

c
cuwabig1
Mar 21, 2015

Very interesting both from an historical and psychological point of view. Historically interesting because of the association with T.Roosevelt, J.P.Morgan, and the Native American tribes. Psychologically interesting to observe the spending of his life for his obsession. Well written as Timothy Egan's books usually are.

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JimCarmin
Oct 02, 2014

And after reading Egan's great book, you should go visit the John Wilson Special Collections and take a look at the actual photogravures by Edward Curtis. In our special collections Multnomah County Library has all 20 volumes of plates and all 20 volumes of text. An extraordinary publication.

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pokano
Jan 08, 2014

Superb book by Tim Egan describing the life and work of Edward Curtis, the Seattlite who took all the sepia-toned photos of Native Americans and First People in the late 1800's and well into the first half of the 20th Century. Amazingly enough, Curtis never made a dime off his monumental 20-volume work, which not only encompassed the photos, but also linguistic and other anthropological studies and precursors to movies. Funded primarily by mogul JP Morgan, Curtis was nonetheless constantly underfunded and died pretty much penniless. Read what made this man keep constantly on the road for decades, documenting numerous tribes in numerous states and Canada, when he was getting no financial compensation for his work. The book contains reproductions of several photos. A must read for anyone interested in the history of Native Americans, of the Pacific Northwest, and the development of mad genius.

tuesdayswithlori Jul 16, 2013

The writing in this is very entertaining. I wish that there had been more pictures that Ed Curtis had taken. It is fascinating to read the story and see the picture of the person who captured Curtis's attention. I felt at times the the biographer too liberties with his interpretation of thoughts and feelings that Curtis had, but I could just be wrongfully suspicious. Fascinating life.

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megtwice
Jun 25, 2013

Unforgettable, hypnotizing, devastating, astonishing. One of the most fascinating books I've ever read — I will remember Edward Curtis and his undertaking forever. I immediately bought a book of his photographs when I finished, in order to not forget how moved I'd been and what I learned.

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hypocracy
May 17, 2013

A fine story by a fine writer-story telling Timothy Egan about photographer Edward Sherriff Curtis’s photographic story telling about the native people the original owners of this lands and the loss of their nations. With population of over 10 million roaming all over this lands in 1492 reaching the end of their era when only 237000 was what left of them out of US population of 76 million of new comers according the Censes of 1900. This is the year when Curtis “The Shadow Catcher” started his struggle in pursue of his great idea to tell the story of what was left of the natives of this land for all the times ever coming in the future to be told with his photographs. Timothy Egan writing about Edward Curtis’s epic life story carries the reader finely through a problematic nebulous concoction of consternation he was facing in pursue of his great idea with a performance matching his promise. Edward Sherriff Curtis chose the companionship with the holy and they made him one. Your time with this book is worth as much as cup of life itself.

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