Native American Perspectives on Edward Curtis

N. Scott Momaday

Foreword – from the book, Sacred Legacy

Photography, at its best, is authentic art, an expression of the creative imagination informed by an original perception of the world. It is said that the camera, by virtue of its very presence, alters reality. Too often a photograph is simply the static record of an image — an object, a figure, a place — in bare definition. A photograph commonly records a facade, the surface of a moment, a nick of geologic time. And as such it is necessarily a distortion, a kind of visible plane beyond which we cannot see. But in the hands of an extraordinary artist the camera can penetrate to a deeper level. For Edward Sheriff Curtis the camera was truly a magic box, a precision instrument that enabled him to draw with light, to transcend the limits of ordinary vision, to see into the shadows of the soul. It is not by accident that he was called by his American Indian subjects “Shadow Catcher.” More …

 

 

Louise Erdrich

Intensity of Regard – forward from the book, The Women

When I look into the eyes of the women photographed by Edward Curtis, there is an exchange, there is intensity of regard. Curtis mastered the art of making his subject so dimensional, so present, so complete, that it is to me as though I am looking at the women through a window, as though they are really there in the print and in the paper, looking back at me. This is the genius and the gift of the work. The women photographed by Curtis are so alive that it seems any minute they will change their expression: the hint of a smile will turn into a hoot or laugh, the frown into exasperation. Just look into the eyes of Klamath Woman, photographed in 1923 (Plate 3). She doesn’t quite trust you. The bells on her hat will jingle in just a moment when she turns away to go about her business. More …

 

Joseph D. Horse Capture

A Personal Legacy – a letter from the book, Sacred Legacy

Few images have had such an impact on my life as Edward Curtis’s 1908 photograph of my great-great-grandfather, Horse Capture. Because my father, George Horse Capture, discovered Curtis’s portrait of our ancestor, the members of our family have been fortunate to have prints of this photograph in all of our households. Horse Capture is with us in all of our homes; his presence helps us choose the directions we take in life. Seeing his face not only reminds us of our relatives but also reinforces our commitment, as Indian people, to teach our children the ways of our ancestors. More …

 

George P. Horse Capture

FORWARD – from the book, Native Nations

Moving northward in my trusty Indian Bronco, we traverse through swarms of winter snow snakes as they wink their icy way across the lonely ribbon of asphalt. Rising above the first big wheat field on the right is an unplowed knoll, crowned with native prairie grass and a small pile of stones. A great tribal leader lies buried beneath this bit of earth. He is my great-grandfather, Horse Capture. He passed from this place sixty-nine years ago, after enjoying sixty-six summers. I first met him face-to-face in 1969 in a photographic likeness, a lasting legacy retained by the preeminent recorder of the Indian West – Edward S. Curtis.

As we pass the stubbled wheat field, memories of my dark days – my childhood on the reservation – come easily, but now seem far away in time and space, and I am reminded once again of our history and of the importance of my great-grandfather. His presence in our lives, symbolizing all of our American Indian elders, ushered in light and knowledge where there was only darkness before. More …

George P. Horse Capture – Obituary