Happy Birthday to the American photographer, Edward Sheriff Curtis (February 16, 1868 - October 19, 1952)! Chances are pretty good that you have seen Curtis's photographs and probably not given it much attention. I hope you will read a little about him and enjoy some of his work; maybe even seek out some of his images to enjoy and appreciate. As a little background to get you started, Curtis was devoted to documenting over eighty American Indian tribes and their traditions. During the process, he amassed over 40,000 images. Yeah, yeah you say, "I probably have that many selfies on my phone." Well, consider that photography was not as "mobile", or convenient, during Curtis's time. He had to carry around heavy, fragile, glass plates, a heavy camera, tripod, as well as chemicals to capture an image. Add in the fact that he carried this equipment on horseback and/or horse drawn wagon, over primitive paths and roads, ... and was gone for months at a time. Additionally, there was a law banning the American Indians from practicing their respective customs and traditions. All in all, this was not an easy task. Seriously, think about this. He did not "scout" the photo location on the internet, load-up his photography gear in an over-priced camera bag, load said gear into a luxury car with heated leather seats, drive the interstate to the airport, arrive at the selected destination a few hours later, flash his media credentials and have models willingly mugging for the camera in a matter of days. It is this kind of dedication and passion that inspires me. I also shames me as I complain that I don't have the right camera gear, the right conditions, etc. (But, I still want that new camera I've been eyeing... just sayin'.) I have even tried my hand at a modern version of his infamous gold tone images. I did not use glass and I am quite sure I cranked them out in a fraction of the time it took Curtis to create.
If you would like to learn more about Edward Curtis, I highly suggest reading Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan. This book gave me a greater appreciation, not only of Curtis's art, but also his sacrifice and contribution to the preservation of Native American culture. For a shorter read, the Smithsonian Magazine has an article about Curtis (Edward Curtis' Epic Project to Photograph Native Americans). And, PBS American Masters has an episode about Curtis (Edward Curtis Shadow Catcher). If nothing else, search the internet to enjoy some of his images.