American Photographer and Ethnologist Portrays His Work with Indigenous Cultures In Early 1900s

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Who was Edward Sheriff Curtis?

Edward Sheriff Curtis was an American Photographer and Ethnologist, born on the 16th of February, 1868 on a farm in Wisconsin, U.S. He is one of the most well recognized and celebrated photographers of the Native American people.

His work mainly focussed on the American West and the Native American people where he spent a lot of time with the tribes documenting their life through photographs and other media.

The collection of Edward’s images at the Library of Congress includes a large number of portraits, as well as traditional and ceremonial dress, dwellings and other structures, agriculture, arts and crafts, rites and ceremonies, dances, games, food preparation, transportation, and scenery.

Self-Portrait of Edward S. Curtis 1868-1952
Self-Portrait of Edward S. Curtis 1868-1952; Date: circa 1889 to 1899; Source: Published in 1910, possibly earlier. See, for instance, The Seattle Star; November 2, 1910; Author: Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952)

Edward's Background

Edward left school after sixth grade and built his own camera at the age of 12 with the help of Wilson's Photographics manual. At 17, he became an apprentice photographer in St Paul, Minnesota.

In the 1890s, Edward purchased a new camera and became a partner with Rasmus Rothi in an existing photographic studio as “Rothi and Curtis, Photographers” by purchasing a share for $150.

After six months, he left Rothi and formed a new partnership with Thomas Guptil, establishing a new studio called the “Curtis and Guptill, Photographers and Photoengravers.

[Saguaro fruit gatherers--Maricopa]
Title: [Saguaro fruit gatherers–Maricopa]; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1907. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Three women, two of them with baskets on their heads, standing by cactus plant, Arizona. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-111943 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12312-E [item] [P&P]
[Eskimos in kayaks, Noatak, Alaska]
Title: [Eskimos in kayaks, Noatak, Alaska]; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1929. Medium: 1 photographic print. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-111135 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12330 [P&P]
[Quinault female head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly left]
Title: [Quinault female head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly left]; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1913. Medium: 1 photographic print. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-108468 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12327-B [P&P]
[Hleastunuh--Skokomish, Indian women, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right]
Title: [Hleastunuh–Skokomish, Indian women, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right]; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1913. Medium: 1 photographic print. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-108466 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12327-B [P&P]
[Entering the Bad Lands. Three Sioux Indians on horseback]
Title: [Entering the Bad Lands. Three Sioux Indians on horseback]; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-107913 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12319 [P&P]
[Food caches, Hooper Bay, Alaska]
Title: [Food caches, Hooper Bay, Alaska]; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1929. Medium: 1 photographic print. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-107327 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12330 [P&P]
[Gobuguoy, Walpi girl, half-length portrait
Title: [Gobuguoy, Walpi girl, half-length portrait, facing front, hair tied in swirls on sides of head, metal bead and bell choker, printed cotton dress, cotton shawl around shoulders]; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1900. Medium: 1 photographic print. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-106758 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12315 [P&P]
[Toneneli and Haschelti]
Title: [Toneneli and Haschelti]; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Two Navajo men impersonating two Yebichai, Toneneli (Water God) and Haschelti (Talking God) on the 6th day of the Yebichai ceremony. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-103462 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12311 [P&P]
A chief of the desert
Title: A chief of the desert–Navaho / E.S. Curtis. Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1904. Medium: 1 photoprint. Summary: Head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-97089 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12311 [P&P]
A Chief--Chukchansi Yokuts
Title: A Chief–Chukchansi Yokuts; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1924. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: A Yokuts chief, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-130202 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12318-H [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

In 1892, Edward married Clara J Phillips and they had four children together. In the mid-1890s, Curtis began photographing local Native Americans who were then digging for clams and mussels on the tide flats.

One of his earliest models was Princess Angeline, the daughter of Sealth, the Suquamish chief after whom Seattle was named. This was the first portrait of a Native American made by Edward in 1895.

Edward later wrote about this as,

“The first photograph I ever made of Indians was of Princess Angeline, the digger and dealer of clams. I paid the Princess a dollar for each picture I made. This seemed to please her greatly and with hands and jargon she indicated that she preferred to spend her time having her picture made than in digging clams.”

Cleaning wheat--San Juan
Title: Cleaning wheat–San Juan; Other Title: The wheat cleaners; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Two Tewa people processing wheat outside pueblo structure, San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-118774 (b&w film copy neg.)

A family group--Noatak
Title: A family group–Noatak; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1929. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Three Eskimos posed. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-89847 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12330 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print
Chemehuevi mother and child
Title: Chemehuevi mother and child; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1907. Medium: 1 photographic print. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-112235 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12318-B [P&P]
An oasis in the Badlands
Title: An oasis in the Badlands; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print : gelatin silver ; photo 15.2 x 20.2 cm. Summary: Photograph shows Red Hawk, an Oglala warrior, sitting on a horse that is drinking from a small pond in the Badlands of North Dakota.; Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-39862 (digital file from original photo) LC-USZ62-107914 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12319 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print
A Tluwulahu mask--Tsawatenok
Title: A Tluwulahu mask–Tsawatenok; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Kwakiutl man, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, wearing a mask depicting a loon on top of a man's head to facilitate the loon changing into the form of a man. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-47017 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12328-A [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Apsaroke mother
Title: Apsaroke mother; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1908 July 6. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Arapsoke woman, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right, child secured on her back with blanket. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-46964 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12320 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Cheyenne young woman
Title: Cheyenne young woman; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1910 Dec 8. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Head-and-shoulders portrait of Cheyenne woman. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-131461 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12322-D [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Black Hair
Title: Black Hair; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Black Hair, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-8862 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-57487 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12331, box 1 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Big Head [B]
Title: Big Head [B]; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Big Head, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-8942 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-52478 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12331, box 3 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Buffalo dancers
Title: Buffalo dancers; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Costumed dancers wearing dance bustles of Tewa sun god made of turkey feathers. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-123302 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12315 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

In 1896, Curtis and Guptill won the bronze medal at the National Photographers Convention in Chautauqua, New York. Argus magazine declared them the leading photographers in Puget Sound.

In 1898, three of Edward’s images were chosen for an exhibition sponsored by the National Photographic Society. Two were images of Princess Angeline, “The Mussel Gatherer” and “The Clam Digger”.

The other was of Puget Sound, entitled “Homeward”, and this was awarded the exhibition's grand prize and a gold medal. The entire Curtis family moved to Seattle in 1896. 

In 1898, when Edward was photographing Mount Rainier, he came across a group of scientists while rescuing them from a disaster. It was at this time he met George Bird Grinnell (editor of the influential Forest and Stream magazine, founder of the Audubon Society and an expert on Plains Indians) and Clinton Hart Merriam (head of the U.S. Biological Survey and a founder of the National Geographic Society).

Upon their request and Edward’s interest, he was appointed the official photographer of the Harriman Alaska Expedition for 1899. There were lectures given on board the ship during the voyage and Edward who had very little formal education benefited a lot during these lectures.

Eagle Elk (He Xa Wan ba li)
Title: Eagle Elk (He Xa Wan ba li); Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1907. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Head-and-shoulders portrait of Oglala man. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-112242 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12319 [P&P]
Hupa fisherman
Title: Hupa fisherman; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: 1923. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Indian standing in canoe, probably Trinity River, Calif. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-98671 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12318-C [P&P]
Grizzly-bear dancer--Qagyuhl
Title: Grizzly-bear dancer–Qagyuhl; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1914. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Indian wearing bearskin. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-96722 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12328-A [P&P]
Crow's Heart--Mandan
Title: Crow's Heart–Mandan; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1908 November 19. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Crow's Heart, half-length portrait, facing left, wearing a buckskin shirt, two eagle feathers in his hair and necklaces, one of bear claws. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-52623 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12321-B [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Flathead Woman [B]
Title: Flathead Woman [B]; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1908 July 6. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: An Apsaroke man named Flathead Woman, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-46971 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12320 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Fiesta of San Estevan (A)--Acoma
Title: Fiesta of San Estevan (A)–Acoma; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Acoma men and women in ceremonial dress, make their way down a street beside pueblo buildings. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-54487 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12316-A [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Gathering Seeds--Coast Pomo
Title: Gathering Seeds–Coast Pomo; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1924. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Cecilia Joaquin, Pomo woman, full-length portrait, standing, using seed beater to gather seeds into a burden basket. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-116525 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12318-G [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Hastobiga, Navaho Medicine Man
Title: Hastobiga, Navaho Medicine Man; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1904. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Hastobiga, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, looking down. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-8826 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-83563 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12331, box 1 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Head Carry
Title: Head Carry; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1900. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Half-length portrait of a Native man, wearing headdress, facing front. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-8933 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-79772 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12331, box 3 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Hopi life
Title: Hopi life; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1907. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Several Hopi women and children seated on floor of unfurnished indoor structure. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-124466 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12315 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Edward, while documenting the geological features of the Alaskan Wilderness found great interest in Native cultures.

He visited the tribal communities in Montana and Arizona and started photographing many Native Americans in the West. Edward spent more time in the field than in his studio. 

In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt invited Edward to photograph his children after looking at his photographs published in the “Ladies Home Journal.”

Measuring shell money--Tolowa
Title: Measuring shell money–Tolowa; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1923. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Man holding string of shells. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-118768 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12318-D [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Many Goats
Title: Many Goats; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1904. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Many Goats, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-90215 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12311 [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Lucille
Title: Lucille; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1907. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Head-and-shoulders portrait of Dakota woman standing in front of tree. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-112239 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12319 [P&P]
Kutenai woman
Title: Kutenai woman; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: 1910, c1910. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Woman holding paddle, standing by canoe at edge of lake, probably in Idaho or Montana. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-99612 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12329-A [P&P]
Masked dancers in canoes [B]--Qagyuhl
Title: Masked dancers in canoes [B]–Qagyuhl; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: During the winter ceremony, Kwakiutl dancers in masks and costumes representing (l to r) Wasp, Thunderbird, and Grizzly-bear, arrive in canoes. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-52219 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12328-A [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Moki melon eaters [D]
Title: Moki melon eaters [D]; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1900 December 3. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Two Hopi children seated on ground eating melon. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-48379 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12315 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Into the hills--Navaho
Title: Into the hills–Navaho; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905 January 6. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Three Navajo Indians on horseback make their way over hilly terrain. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-48395 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12311 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Mosa--Mohave
Title: Mosa–Mohave; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1903. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Head-and-shoulders portrait of a Mohave woman, facing front. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-8920 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-83564 (b&w film copy neg.) LC-USZ62-49212 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12331, box 4 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Little Daylight
Title: Little Daylight; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Little Daylight, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-8832 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-52472 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12331, box 1 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Jack Shiggie
Title: Jack Shiggie; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1903. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Native American, head-and-shoulders portrait, right profile. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-8815 (color film copy transparency); Call Number: LOT 12331, box 1 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

In 1906, Edward was funded by J.P.Morgan to produce a series on Native Americans consisting of 20 volumes and 1,500 photographs.

Edward’s goal was not just to photograph, but to document as much of the disappearing traditional life of the Native Americans. He tells about this in his introductory volume of “The North American Indian” in 1907 as,

“The passing of every old man or woman means the passing of some tradition, some knowledge of sacred rites possessed by no other; consequently the information that is to be gathered, for the benefit of future generations, respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once…or the opportunity will be lost.”

There is also a foreword by Theodore Roosevelt in Volume 1 of “The North American Indian.”

Edward made over 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of the Native American language and music, produced lectures, slide shows, a multimedia Curtis Indian Picture Opera throughout the U.S. and over 40,000 photographs of over 80 tribes.

Volume one of The North American Indian appeared in 1907. In 1930 the last two volumes were finally published, completing nearly thirty years of work.

Offering pipe to the skull--Cheyenne
Title: Offering pipe to the skull–Cheyenne; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1910. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Woman offering pipe to buffalo skull, during sun dance ceremony. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-120086 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12322-D [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Ola--Noatak
Title: Ola–Noatak; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1929 Feb. 28. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Head-and-shoulders portrait of Eskimo woman. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-89841 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12330 [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
On Shoalwater Bay
Title: On Shoalwater Bay; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1913. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Four canoes on large body of water. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-113095 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12327-B [P&P]
Navaho child
Title: Navaho child; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-112208 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12311 [P&P]
Preparing the sweat
Title: Preparing the sweat; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Four Navajo Indians preparing hot embers, covering them with brush and weeds on second day of Yebichai ceremony. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-103458 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12311 [P&P]
Pakit--Maricopa
Title: Pakit–Maricopa; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1907. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Photograph shows head-and-shoulders portrait of a Maricopa woman, wrapped in a blanket. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-136604 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12312-E, box 3 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Pgwis--Qagyuhl
Title: Pgwis–Qagyuhl; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Kwakiutl person wearing mask of mythical creature Pgwis (man of the sea). Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-52221 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12328-A [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Prayer to the Great Mystery, (Slow Bull)
Title: Prayer to the Great Mystery, (Slow Bull); Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1907 December 26. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Slow Bull, squatting, wearing breechcloth, holding pipe with mouthpiece pointing skyward, buffalo skull at his feet. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-48425 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12319 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Nesjaja Hatali - Navaho
Title: Nesjaja Hatali – Navaho; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1904. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Nesjaja Hatali, medicine man, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-8918 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-52476 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12331, box 4 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Papago cleaning wheat (Winnowing wheat)
Title: Papago cleaning wheat (Winnowing wheat); Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1907. Medium: 1 photographic print. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-123312 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12313-B [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

During his fieldwork for The North American Indian, Edward started using motion picture cameras working alongside ethnographer George Hunt in 1910.

Edward created few films and “In the land of the Head Hunters” was the first feature-length film whose cast was composed entirely of Native Americans and it depicted their life in the Northwest coast.

During his work on the above film, Edward was often absent from home for most of the year, with his wife having to manage the children and studio by herself. After several years of estrangements, Clara filed for a divorce in 1916 and was granted one in 1919.

Clara received Edward’s photographic studio and all of his original camera negatives as her part of the settlement, but Edward and his daughter Beth went to the studio and destroyed all of his original glass negatives as they did not want them to be a property of his ex-wife.

During this time in 1916, Edward worked on the Orotone photographic process.

This process was created by printing a positive on a glass plate pre-coated with a silver gelatine emulsion. Following exposure and development, the back of the plate is coated with banana oil impregnated with gold-coloured pigment, to yield a gold-toned image.

Alternatively, the developed glass plate can be gold-leafed by hand with 23-karat gold leaf.

Snake gathering [C]--Hopi
Title: Snake gathering [C]–Hopi; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1907. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Six Hopi snake priests, standing, facing front, carrying sticks. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-124230 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12315 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Puget Sound baskets
Title: Puget Sound baskets; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1913. Medium: 1 photographic print. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-119797 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12327-B [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
The Bowman--Nootka
Title: The Bowman–Nootka; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1910. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Rear view of nude Indian standing on rock in water and aiming arrow. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-90801 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12328-B [P&P]
Sifting basket--southern Miwok
Title: Sifting basket–southern Miwok; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1924. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Miwok woman holding sifting basket, California. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-114583 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12318-I [P&P]
Sù̂-Donii (Osier-Willow Blossom)--Pyramid Lake Paviotso
Title: Sù̂-Donii (“Osier-Willow Blossom”)–Pyramid Lake Paviotso; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1924. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Head-and-shoulders portrait of Native American. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-113076 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12318-H [P&P]
The ancient Arapaho
Title: The ancient Arapaho; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1910 December 8. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Arapaho person, head-and-shoulders portrait, looking downward to the right. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-49040 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12322-B [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Singing deeds of valor
Title: Singing deeds of valor; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1908. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Two Dakota men playing hand drums outside of a tipi. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-46980 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12319 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Running Rabbit
Title: Running Rabbit; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1900. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Running Rabbit, Native man, half-length portrait, standing, facing front, holding staff. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-8917 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-72211 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12331, box 4 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Rigid and statuesque
Title: Rigid and statuesque; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print ; 15.1 x 20.2 cm (photo) Summary: Photo shows three Crow men, facing right, on rock ledge. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-123304 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12320 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA ;
Si Wa Wata Wa
Title: Si Wa Wata Wa; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1903. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Si Wa Wata Wa, bust portrait, facing front, wearing blanket and handkerchief headband. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-123309 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12317 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

In 1920, Edward moved to Los Angeles with his daughter Beth and opened a new studio in California and also worked as a still photographer and assistant movie camera operator for film studios.

He was an uncredited assistant cameraman for the filming of “The Ten Commandments” in 1923.

Edward died of a heart attack in 1952, aged 84, in Los Angeles. He was buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

Exhibitions of His Work

Edward’s work was forgotten during that time, but interest in his work revived in the 1970s. Exhibitions of his photographs were held in the Morgan Library & Museum in 1971, The Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1972 and the University of California, Irvine in 1976.

His work was also featured in several anthologies on Native American Photography published in the 1970s.

The Wolf, animal dance--Cheyenne
Title: The Wolf, animal dance–Cheyenne; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1927. Medium: 1 photographic print. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-120094 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12322-D [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Zuni girls
Title: Zuni girls; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1903. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Two Zuni girls standing in front of pueblo buildings. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-112234 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12317 [P&P]
Woman and child, Nunivak
Title: Woman and child, Nunivak; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1929. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Child is Joe Moses. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-107285 (b&w film copy neg.) LC-USZ62-83592 (b&w film copy neg. from photogravure); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 12330 [P&P]
White Duck
Title: White Duck; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1908. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Hidatsa Indian posed, head and shoulders, wearing headdress, facing right. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-96186 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12321-A [P&P]
Yakotlus--Quatsino
Title: Yakotlus–Quatsino; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1914 November 13. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Yakotlus, Kwakiutl man, head-and-shoulders portrait, seated, facing right. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-52197 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12328-A [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
The laughing singer
Title: The laughing singer; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905 January 6. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Navajo man, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, wearing a necklace and a headband. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-52674 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12311 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Tsahizn Tseh
Title: Tsahizn Tseh; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1906 December 19. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Tsahizn Tseh, bust portrait, facing front, with a bandana covering his head. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-88158 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12310-A [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
The middle Columbia
Title: The middle Columbia; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1910 December 8. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Chinook man seated in rear of boat beached on riverbank, mountains in background. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-47011 (b&w film copy neg.); Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12326-D [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Three Horses
Title: Three Horses; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Three Horses, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, wearing headdress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-8927 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-48287 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12331, box 4 [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
White Shield--Arikara
Title: White Shield–Arikara; Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer; Date Created/Published: c1908. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: White Shield, half-length portrait, facing left. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-125926 (b&w film copy neg.); Call Number: LOT 12321-D [item] [P&P]; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


Further Resources

  • The complete collection of Edward S Curtis can be found here at the Library of Congress website.
  • If you wish to know more about Edward, head over here to this website!

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Dahlia is a stock photographer and full time educator at Light Stalking. You can find her on Gurushots and see some of her more popular articles at The American Society of Media Photographers. Get to know her better here.

Stunning work. The photograph of the rider on the horse drinking at the pool gave me goosebumps. Cinematic in nature and yet entirely real from over a hundred years ago. I’ve only just begun to replace my digital workflow with that of film, especially on black and white (Kodak Tri-X) and work like this in all its masterful nature beyond the medium itself just makes me more sure about sticking to film, especially for my portrait and street photography.

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