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Painted lodges - Piegan. Edward S. Curtis

[Detail] Painted lodges - Piegan. Edward S. Curtis

Historical Comprehension: Identifying Historical Perspectives

The captions Curtis wrote for his photographs are primary sources, just as the photographs themselves are. By drawing the viewers' attention to certain aspects of a photograph or labeling objects or people in particular ways, Curtis was attempting to frame the viewer's response to the photographs. Examine Curtis's caption to the photograph "The Apache" and compare it to the description accompanying the photograph of Genitoa.

"This picture might be titled 'Life Primeval.' It is the Apache as we would mentally picture him in the time of the Stone Age. It was made at a spot on Black River, Arizona, where the dark, still pool breaks into the laugh of a rapids."

Description of "Apache"

"No picture could better show the old renegade type of the Apache than this one of Genitoa. It is the type of Indian who has yielded to the inevitable and lives in peace - not because he prefers it, but because he must."

Description of "Renegade type"

  • Why do you think Curtis used such expressions as "Life Primeval," "Stone Age," and "renegade type" in the captions? What do these expressions reveal about his views?
  • What was Curtis's purpose in describing the setting of the photograph titled "Apache"? Why did he use such metaphorical language as "the laugh of a rapids"?
  • How do these descriptions reflect society's view of the American Indian in the early years of the 20th century?

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