Edward S. Curtis American, 1868-1954

Black Belly - Cheyenne n.d. Photogravure, 17 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Elliot McDowell, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) was a self-taught photographer and ethnographer famous for his massive, twenty-volume encyclopedia, The North American Indian (1907-30). Intended collectively to record in words and pictures the living traditions of every Indian tribe on the continent north of the Mexican border and west of the Mississippi, each of Curtis’s volumes was devoted to a single tribe or group of related or geographically adjacent tribes, and featured a text illustrated by approximately seventy-five plates.


Additionally, each volume was accompanied by a portfolio of around thirty-five folio-sized photogravures, also sold separately in the form of reprints. Curtis’s subjects were presented in a tightly cropped view and with a shallow depth of field that blurs the surroundings, concentrating attention on the individual’s face. He intended his photographs not simply to document but to glorify the native inhabitants of the American West.

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