Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading the histories of people and places that resonate with me, including biographies of great photographers. Photography is a brilliant art form in its inherent individuality, and each photographer’s journey is a perfectly unique; often equal parts epic triumph and heartbreaking tragedy.
Such is the story of Edward Curtis – Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher. Told in vivid detail by master storyteller, journalist and novelist, Timothy Egan, this book evokes the entire gamut of emotions and left me with a far deeper understanding of what it means to devote your life to your craft.
Edward Curtis is famous for his iconic portraits of Native Americans in the early part of the 20th century, and has in recent years been the target of criticism that he was a profiteer, more interested in creating an illusion on film than faithfully documenting a way of life.
The truth is far more complex, and the story is infinitely more nuanced. It is every bit worth the 300+ pages it takes to gain a more complete understanding. What is clear is that beyond the photography, which is doubtlessly breathtaking, Edward Curtis devoted his entire life to trying to understand and document every Native American tribe in the country, as ‘progress’ literally erased his subjects as he was attempting to study, document, integrate with and photograph them.
This is the epic and tragic tale of a true artist, an explorer and a hero facing insurmountable odds and charging forward nonetheless. Highly recommended. Or, in other words, read this book.
If you’ve got other titles that you’ve found captivating or inspiring, I’d love to hear about them. Drop a note in the comments below!