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Edward S. Curtis Collection

Selected Images from the Collection:
A Brief History of Curtis's Career in Images


In his early photographic career, Curtis gained considerable respect as a portrait photographer. His talent was recognized by President Theodore Roosevelt who arranged for Curtis to photograph the Roosevelt children at their Sagamore Hill home on the East Coast.
"Playing in the sand." Left to right: Quentin Roosevelt, Archie Roosevelt, Walter Russell, and Nicholas Roosevelt. Copyrighted 1904.
Call number: LOT 10512 Reproduction number: LC-USZ6-641
Playing in the sand
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Curtis began photographing local Native people in Washington state shortly after establishing his portrait studio in Seattle in 1891.
"On the Beach." A Chinook woman with a staff and clam basket on the mud flats of Shoalwater Bay. Copyrighted 1910.
Call number: LOT 12326-C Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-99363
On the Beach
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During a trip to Montana around 1900, Curtis witnessed the annual sundance of the area's indigenous people which later influenced his decision to document Native cultures on a large-scale. He returned to Montana many times over the next several years.
"On the Custer Outlook." Curtis, the photographer, posed with four Crow men in Montana. Copyrighted 1908.
Call number: LOT 12320 Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-66633
On the Custer Outlook
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Permanent and temporary shelters and dwellings, ceremonial sites, fishing platforms, and storage units for agriculture, are among the many types of structures featured in Curtis's extensive overview of the architecture of Native people.
"King Island Village." Consisting of twenty-nine houses on stilts, this Eskimo settlement is built on seven terraces. Copyrighted 1929.
Call number: LOT 12330 Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-13916
King Island Village
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Native women making pottery, tending infants in cradleboards, hauling wood, harvesting fruit, carrying water, grinding corn, and stretching hides are among the traditional domestic activities depicted in Curtis's work.
"Piki maker." This Hopi woman is preparing piki, a wafer-thin bread made from cornmeal, on a baking stone in her pueblo home. Copyrighted 1906.
Call number: LOT 12315 Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-115802
Piki maker
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Tribal chiefs and leaders of Native nations are well-represented in the Curtis collection and provide a rich and valuable source of family history. Many are identified while others are simply referred to by title. In recent years, however, tribal historians have identified some of these previously unnamed subjects.
"Joseph–Nez Perce." Hienmot Tooyalakekt (1841-1904), commonly known as Chief Joseph, was a leader of the Wallamotkin band of Nez Perce. Copyrighted 1903.
Call number: LOT 12325-C Reproduction number: LC-USZ61-2088
Joseph-Nez Perce
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Although Curtis rarely photographed families as a whole, many images relating to the family are some of the finest examples of portraiture. These include mothers with babies, young boys and girls, teenagers, and married couples.
"Good Bear [and family]." The young boys in this Hidatsa family posed for their portrait in western clothing typical for this time period while their parents favored ceremonial dress. Copyrighted 1908.
Call number: LOT 12321-A Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-96196
Good Bear [and family]
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Influenced by the Pictorialist movement in photography--which viewed photographs as fine art, comparable to drawings and paintings--Curtis developed his craft using soft-focus, cropping, and other pictorialist techniques. His artistry, talent, and vision are evident in the carefully composed, romanticized images.
"At the water's edge–Piegan." Copyrighted 1910.
Call number: LOT 12322-C Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-101262
At the water's edge–Piegan
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Curtis often portrayed indigenous people and their cultural practices in ways that obscured the ongoing process of assimilation. On occasion, long-haired wigs, tribal artifacts, and ceremonial clothing were used to enhance his nostalgic imagery. Here, a party of Oglala Sioux reenact their former days as warriors.
"Planning a Raid." Scene from the re-enactment of the Battle of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Copyrighted 1907.
Call number: LOT 12319 Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-90799
Planning a Raid
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Between 1911 and 1914, Curtis filmed In the Land of the Headhunters based on his dramatic screenplay of love and war among the Kwakiutl Indians in British Columbia. Kwakiutl craftsmen were hired to construct an artificial village, costumes, masks, and other props for the film. This wedding ceremony was a scene in the movie.
"Wedding party-Qagyuhl." According to Curtis, after the Kwakiutl wedding in the bride's village, the party returns to the husband's home in the painted canoe while the men sing and thump with the handles of their paddles. Copyrighted 1914.
Call number: LOT 12328 Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-51435
Wedding party-Qagyuhl
[55K JPEG]
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Last revised: 12/2013

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  December 11, 2013
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