Ask Morgana 068: Native American
Edward S Curtis was a photographer of the late 19c and early 20c. He is best known for his portraits of Native American people, from a time when their cultures were being lost almost faster than he could take pictures. His work has often been criticised for perpetuating, if not actually creating, the sentimental idea of the ‘noble savage’. However, regardless of whatever his motives, personal ideology, or artistic intentions may have been, Curtis created a pictorial record that has never been matched.
All his work is fascinating, and I have spent much time looking through it – there is so much on the internet – but of particular note are his studies of Native American women. Curtis photographed the young looking boldly into the camera, the elderly whose gaze was faraway, mothers with children. I don’t find anything patronising in his work; perhaps they are mannered, coloured by the aesthetic of the day, but they have a pervasive vérité. I hope you will search for his work, and I hope you will admire it as much as I do.