Photographing Native Americans

The amazing story of the photographer who captured the last old ways of the Apache, the Hopi, the Sioux—Native Americans.

Chief Joseph by Edward Curtis.

Chief Joseph by Edward Curtis.

In the 1890’s, young Edward Curtis was a favorite portrait photographer in Seattle.  Nice little business in town.  Good clientele.  Then Curtis opened his eyes to the vanishing world of native America, and was transformed.  A man on a mission to capture the last great images of American Indians in their teepees and lodges, regalia and battered pride before their traditional world vanished.

It’s an amazing story.  Indiana Jones with a camera.  And a vanishing world of proud Apache, Navajo, Sioux, Cheyenne.

This hour, On Point:  capturing the last great images of traditional native America.

-Tom Ashbrook


Timothy Egan, Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist for the New York Times, his new book is Short Night of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post “Sometime in early 1896, a young Seattle photographer named Edward Sherriff Curtis, already well known for his polished studio portraits of local civic leaders and business tycoons, decided to challenge himself and photograph a very different kind of subject. He chose “Princess Angeline,” aka Kick-is-om-lo, the sole surviving child of the great Duwamish-Suquamish chief for whom the city of Seattle was named. Roughly 80 years old at the time, Angeline lived in a dilapidated shack on the shores of Puget Sound, eking out a marginal existence by washing other people’s laundry for coins. She was regarded as “the last Indian of Seattle,” and Curtis thought she might make an unusual model for an afternoon’s sitting.”

Cleveland Plain DealerTimothy Egan has made a bonny career writing books of highly readable Western history. He won a 2006 National Book Award for “The Worst Hard Time,” a haunting and well-researched volume that rescued the Dust Bowl from airy abstraction.”

LA Times “Edward Curtis was given many names by the native peoples he encountered in his journeys across the North American continent.”


Check out this collection of photos by Edward Curtis.


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