Edward S. Curtis’ Native American Exhibit at the Bellingham Lightcatcher
In 1906, when J.P. Morgan hired Edward Curtis to photograph Native Americans, his goal was not just to photograph but to document as much of Native American traditional life as possible before that way of life disappeared. He wrote in the introduction to his first volume in 1907: “The information that is to be gathered … respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost.” Curtis made over 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Native American language and music. He took over 40,000 photographic images from over 80 tribes. He recorded tribal lore and history, and he described traditional foods, housing, garments, recreation, ceremonies, and funeral customs. He wrote biographical sketches of tribal leaders, and his material, in most cases, is the only written recorded history although there is still a rich oral tradition that documents history. Mr. Curtis’ accomplishments, as shown in this exhibit, reflect those of a cultural anthropologist rather than a photographer. ]Hopefully, if you haven’t already visited this exhibit, you will get the opportunity to do so before it closes, after May 10, 2015. I was informed, on a recent docent visit to this exhibit, that Mr. Curtis allowed his subjects to pose in their natural state. Instead of suggesting a particular mood, he photographed his subjects while observing them. There is so much emotion depicted in his photos.