Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan

Short Nights: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Edward Curtis.

Even though this is non-fiction, because of Curtis' superb writing, it reads like an impossible-to-put-down novel.

Almost immediately readers are drawn into Curtis' world and are fascinated by the odds of a subsistence farmer rising to ranks of super celebrity: all due to Curtis' skill with a camera and business acumen.


After a fall out with his younger brother, Curtis befriends Bird Grinell and launches the "big idea." His idea is to record the vanishing Native American tribes on film and wax recorder, an early recording device.

Curtis gained the trust of Native Americans and given some access to their world. He was not permitted to participate or photograph the Sundance or snake ceremonies (until late in life).
Nonetheless, Curtis was well-liked and given a variety of Indian names and nicknames, including "The Man Who Sleeps on His Breath" because he slept on an air mattress.

Egan offers a fascinating portrait of an ambitious, energetic man who tried to improve perceptions of Native Americans with his camera. 

A digital library of Curtis' life's work, The North American Indian, may be found at, http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/