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Photographing Native Americans

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

Rebroadcast: Originally aired October 22, 2012.

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.”


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  • Steve__T

    Should have posted more pics

  • debhulbh

    The Native people of this country The Native America Indians, suffered just as the Irish did at the hands of the English and the Tibetans suffer today at the hands of the Chinese. Inability to practice their own culture, language, traditions….the inhumanity of it, all borne from greed.
     Mans inhumanity to man
    “More inhumanity (to man) has been done by man himself than any other of nature’s causes.” ”Man’s inhumanity (towards man) comes from within, due to the lack of cardinal virtues.” ”There is only one way in which one can endure man’s inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one’s own life, to exemplify man’s humanity to man.” ”The inhumanity of man toward man is our greatest sin.” ”Man’s inhumanity to man is equaled only by man’s inhumanity to himself.” ”Man’s inhumanity to his brother is Our greatest sorrow.” ”Man’s inhumanity to man crosses continents and decades.”]”Why do we hunt and persecute each other? Why is our world so full of man’s infamous inhumanity to man – and to woman?” ”Man’s inhumanity to man shows only the weakness of the soul.” UnknownAnd we continue to wage senseless wars, and throw our fellow young men and women in prisons and lock them up for years  ( for first time nonviolent offenses..) Insanity thy name is man…moion and on it continues….Edit

    • Steve__T

       If you read the Bible you know that the first murder was committed as brother against brother. I believe that if there were just two men living on earth one would kill the other, even out of indifference to his own existence. How we have been able to populate the earth is beyond my understanding. Animals don’t kill except for survival, we kill because of the most inane reasons, jealousy, pride and greed. When will we learn? It will be to late, when the last man standing is alone.

  • debhulbh

    This board is sadly strangely eerily silent on this topic of mans inhumanity to man.

  • debhulbh

    the inhumanity

  • GTV

    In his book “The Winning of the West,” Teddy Roosevelt justified the forcible removal of Native Americans from their lands by claiming that “The world would probably not have gone forward at all, had it not been for the displacement or submersion of savage and barbaric peoples.”  He further maintained that it was absolutely essential for North America to be won by a “masterful people.”  This horrendous extirpation of the Native American population is another very dark chapter in U.S. history, something we should not forget on the Fourth of July.

    • Tyranipocrit

      exactly what is worth celebrating in American history? Independence from what? 

      Whatever the colonists suffered under Britain it was inconsequential compared to the tyranny the American and International 1% create, instigate and impose today.

      American history is one of genocide, murder, invasion, slavery, and lies–all by the mechanisms of the 1PERCENT.

      civil rights were long treacherous and bloody campaigns that the 1% (corporate-government) begrudgingly acknowledged and are forever tearing away and undermining.

  • VeganGalNoLa

    What have Anglo-Saxons NOT ruined here in the Americas?

    I’m a Creole in New Orleans. My great-great grandparents in  early 20th Century Louisiana – along with Cajuns – were prohibited from speaking French. Children were beaten and humiliated in school for speaking their own language here, as late as the 1950s and ’60s!

    For our own benefit, our ancestors did not teach us the language, although we continue to use certain words and phrases every day that honor our past and express who we really are. Regardless of who snickers. In a now-global economy, we have been handicapped.

    Today, our city is over-run by people who can’t pronounce vowels; angrily yell at me that they can’t pronounce my four-letter, two-syllable name; and insist on calling me what they want to call me, a moniker I’ve grown to detest. Instead of my name. In other words, I’m the one with the problem for seeking the respect of ill-mannered, uncivil and self-centered interlopers.

    People must SEE the God in others if we are to ever clean this mess up.

  • VeganGalNoLa

    Yes! That is why I am so very pleased that Tom and the On Point staff – and NPR, in general – have rebroadcast this show and others similar in the past few days, leading up to July 4.

    Whose Independence?

  • quickbloom

    This is a wonderful conversation. I am working on a documentary of people interacting with the wild and the stories they have to share. This is a wonderful story and wild for sure.
    see http://www.quickbloom.com/wyld-er-ness-documentary.html
    Thanks for sharing this story with us, Tom!

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      nice plug

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