Historical Issue Analysis and Decision-Making: Photographing Rituals
In his "General Introduction" to The North American Indian, Curtis described the difficulty of convincing Indians to allow their private lives and rituals to be photographed:
"The task has not been an easy one, for although lightened at times by the readiness of the Indians to impart their knowledge, it more often required days and weeks of patient endeavor before my assistants and I succeeded in overcoming the deep-rooted superstition, conservatism, and secretiveness so characteristic of primitive people, who are ever loath to afford a glimpse of their inner life to those who are not of their own. Once the confidence of the Indians gained, the way led gradually through the difficulties, but long and serious study was necessary before knowledge of the esoteric rites and ceremonies could be gleaned."
Given that many ceremonies were not intended for public viewing, why do you think Curtis wished to photograph them? Why do you think the Indians eventually agreed? With a partner, write a dialogue between Curtis and a Native American spiritual leader, discussing the pros and cons of photographing religious rituals. If you were Curtis, would you have decided to photograph sacred ceremonies? Why or why not? If you were the Native American spiritual leader, would you have granted permission for the ceremonies to be photographed? Why or why not?