Edward S. Curtis Portraits
The Many Faces of the Native Americans
by Wayne Youngblood
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Pub Date 09 Nov 2021 | Archive Date 28 Sep 2021
Quarto Publishing Group – Chartwell Books, Chartwell Books
“In Mr. Curtis we have both an artist and a trained observer, whose pictures are pictures, not merely photographs.” —President Theodore Roosevelt
Talented photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis set out on the project with the goal of becoming a successful portrait artist, but as he worked taking photographs of the “vanishing Indian,” he discovered a calling as an ethnographer and embarked on a mission to document every aspect of traditional Native American culture before it disappeared forever. He considered the loss of Native American traditions a national tragedy and sacrificed his financial security, marriage, and even his health to pursue his mission.
Curtis’s highly expressive portraits convey the full range of human emotions, attesting to the trust he established with his subjects, and serve as exquisite examples of classic portraiture. From Alaska to Mexico, the photographs in this compact volume feature tribes such as:
- The Apache
- The Jicarillas
- The Navaho
- The Papago
- The Qahatika
- The Mohave
- The Yuma
- The Maricopa
- The Walapai
- The Havasupai
- The Yavapai
- And many more
Though Curtis has been criticized for idealizing the people he photographed with props and staged shots, his deep respect for them and earnest attempt to understand them is apparent in his work. Today, these portraits allow us a precious glimpse into Native American life as it existed before complete colonial expansion in the United States.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 16 members
While it is kind of weird how Curtis posed his subjects and covered up their modern clothing, there’s no doubt that his portraits of Native Americans are some of the most striking and emotional I’ve seen, in these pages and elsewhere. His subjects seem alive, with clear emotions on their faces and piercing gazes. It’s not like looking at a portrait - it’s like looking at a person who’s standing before you, holding your gaze and insisting that you really see them.
I’ve seen Curtis' portraits before, but never grouped together like this, in chapters that mirror the original volumes, and never with the accompanying explanatory text identifying their names, their tribes, when Curtis took the photos, and whether they are deliberately posed and dressed or more natural. It gives the portraits even more gravity and presence.
Even with his questionable actions in posing them, Curtis' portraits convey the message he was perhaps aiming for. That even though many of the ways of life for Native Americans have been lost, the people themselves are not gone.
As I stare into the eyes of Curtis' subjects, as I take in their happiness and pain, their contemplation and accusation, I find myself tearing up. I’ve never been this affected by a portrait before. Curtis was without a doubt an artist and master of his craft and we are lucky that he devoted his life to capturing Native Americans on film before their ways of life could be completely lost.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Quarto Publishing Group - Chartwell Books for providing an e-arc for review.
Edward S. Curtis dedicated his life to capturing portraits of the North American Indian. Believing their culture and way of life was on the verge of disappearing, he wanted to preserve their image in its most authentic self—untouched by the White man. Ironically, in trying to convey this, Curtis would sometimes pose his subjects with blankets to cover their modern attire.
The book opens with a short backstory of Curtis’ childhood. From the early age of 12, Curtis had a love for photography. As he grows older, the book outlines his path to becoming a successful photographer.
The photographs in this book are divided into 20 volumes. Each volume highlights a different tribe and provides some insight into each tribe. Curtis’ photographs captured a wide range of his subjects’ emotions, showcasing happiness, sadness, despair, pain, and more.
My favorite volume was of the Alaskan Eskimo and Nunivak tribes. The portraits in this collection appear the most authentic. Photographs in this collection feature Natives in traditional attire, hunting in kayaks, using tools, and family life. I also enjoyed viewing the portraits from lesser-known tribes such as the Qahatika, Maricopa, and Havasupai.
I appreciated Curtis’ commitment to preserving the Native American culture, in a time when Natives were dying from disease, war, and famine.
Thank you, Chartwell Books, for my review copy.
Wonderful sections of Curtis’ volumes. He is well known for his portraits of different Native Americans. A beautiful collection of different tribes. Especially like the images of the women. Highly recommend this book. Interesting notes with the images too. Cannot say enough on how much I enjoyed looking through this book.
This is a wonderful and quite mesmerising book of photographic portraits by Curtis. I was very interested to read about Curtis' and his life. I would have loved to have known more about the individuals in the pictures. Thank you to Wayne Youngblood, Chartwell Books and Net Galley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
The photos in "Edward S. Curtis Portraits" should speak for themselves. How can I write a review that describes how beautiful, how haunting, how incredible the photos included here are? I can't. The photos are presented perfectly, along with short descriptions to help us understand what we're seeing. This is an incredible snapshot journey through Native American tribes - and one you will be sure not to forget.
My thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley. This review was written voluntarily and is entirely my own, unbiased, opinion.
This is a well done book with the photos taken over a time period of the early 1900’s up to 1930. Each chapter/volume focuses on a set group of tribes located in the west including Alaska. Each photo has a description of the person along with their name. What I found most interesting is that these were everyday members of the various tribes without a focus on the more well known names within each group.
I received a free Kindle copy of this book courtesy of Net Galley and the publisher with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Facebook and my nonfiction book review blog
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