Edward S.Curtis is an American photographer who created one of the most enduring and iconic visual records in the history of the photographic medium, a record that has informed our vision of who we are and where we came from. The images he created during his extraordinary, thirty-year odyssey have touched viewers throughout the world. Today he is believed to be the world’s most widely collected and exhibited fine art photographer.
In 1906, J. P. Morgan provided Curtis with $75,000 to produce a series on Native Americans. This work was to be in 20 volumes with 1,500 photographs. Morgan’s funds were to be disbursed over five years and were earmarked to support only fieldwork for the books, not for writing, editing, or production of the volumes. Curtis received no salary for the project, which was to last more than 20 years. Under the terms of the arrangement, Morgan was to receive 25 sets and 500 original prints as repayment.
Once Curtis had secured funding for the project, he was able to hire several employees to help him. Eventually 222 complete sets were published. Curtis’s goal was not just to photograph but also to document as much of Native American traditional life as possible before that way of life disappeared.
Curtis made over 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Native American language and music. He took over 40,000 photographic images of members of over 80 tribes. His work changed the way an entire nation viewed Native Americans. He accomplished this at a time when some individuals were actively advocating for the extinction of all Native people on this continent. His images have also moved and inspired extraordinarily broad and diverse audiences, transcending economic, cultural, social, educational, and national boundaries.