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Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs… (2012)

by Timothy Egan

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7013625,234 (4.21)89
"Edward Curtis was dashing, charismatic, a passionate mountaineer, a famous photographer--the Annie Liebowitz of his time. And he was thirty-two years old in 1900 when he gave it all up to pursue his great idea: He would try to capture on film the Native American nation before it disappeared. At once an incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, Egan's book tells the remarkable untold story behind Curtis's iconic photographs, following him throughout Indian country from desert to rainforest as he struggled to document the stories and rituals of more than eighty tribes. Even with the backing of Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan, it took tremendous perseverance--six years alone to convince the Hopi to allow him into their Snake Dance ceremony. The undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate. He would die penniless and unknown in Hollywood just a few years after publishing the last of his twenty volumes. But the charming rogue with the grade-school education had fulfilled his promise--his great adventure succeeded in creating one of America's most stunning cultural achievements."--… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Once again Timothy Egan has written another spellbinding, well researched book. He makes you feel like you are traveling alongside Edward Curtis on his quest to record the history of the North American Indian in photos and in words. He was an avid mountaineer and his photographs told the story of the plight of the Indians losing their past. His journey and complete obsession with his project takes him back and forth across the continent as he meets with Teddy Roosevelt, JP Morgan and many others. The project would take a lifetime, and leave him a pauper, but he left behind a legacy. ( )
  lonetree1972 | Jun 1, 2021 |
I read Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan for the Nonfiction CAT, which was biography for March. I read The Big Burn earlier this year and really enjoyed it. I was not as taken with this biography. Maybe Egan is better when he has more of a story to tell? Curtis was a fascinating character, willing to sacrifice most pleasures of a simple life to create a record of what he knew to be dying cultures all across the United States. I suspect he was also an incredibly frustrating man to those around him, certainly his wife and, perhaps, his children, although he did seem to have decent relationships with them and worked with them throughout his life. But, without him, we would not have many of the iconic pictures of the last great generation of Native American leaders and I was disappointed that the book didn't have more pictures. They are in the public domain and Wikipedia has a gallery. ( )
  witchyrichy | Apr 3, 2020 |
Before beginning the first chapter of this book, I only knew the story from the blurb on the jacket, which I read in a bookstore in Bellingham, Wa. But when I read the first chapter I realized I was learning about one of Seattle's greatest artists - though one unknown for far too long.

Curtis singlemindedly pursued one life vision from the late 1800s through the First World War: document the American Indian as she and he truly lived, before the American expansion, Manifest Destiny, and a culture of blatant racism and greed assimilated them. Although it cost him much - Curtis lost his wife, his reputation, and died penniless - his work documenting the reality of Native life was astounding. He produced twenty volumes of work, so exquisitely printed that the first reviews of his books were said to rival only the King James Bible. He made 200,000 photos. He recorded 10,000 songs. He wrote vocabularies and alphabets for 75 languages, many of which have been used by those tribes' descendants to revive their language. He transcribed rituals, stories, mythology. He produced the first deeply researched reconstruction of Custer's shameful work in The Battle of Little Big Horn, by talking to eyewitnesses on both sides of the battle. He told the story of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce wars, followed by the in humane treatment of the natives.

The Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher does an outstanding job of bringing this visionary the credit he deserves for such phenomenal work. ( )
  patl | Feb 18, 2019 |
There are few things more guaranteed to be enjoyed than a Timothy Egan non-fiction book. I have read all but one of his, and they all flow easily, educate substantially, and capture their subjects, body and soul. In this case, the book is nominally about the photographer, Edward Curtis. However, it every bit as much about our native Americans, their culture, their fall, their recovery of sorts, their honor, their diversity. This not to say that Egan's portrait of Curtis leaves out anything of the herculean task he took on of documenting in great detail the intricacies of many dozens of North American tribes. And can a man who knew Teddy Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan personally, actually complete a monumental lifetime work...for free? One might wonder why I did not rate this book higher than I did. Perhaps it is because I have grown so used to Egan's fine work. But more than that, it is because the book leaves me hungry for more Curtis photography, salivating for more extensive history of the numerous American Indian tribes. In short, this book just wasn't enough. I need more. ( )
  larryerick | Apr 26, 2018 |
Back in the late 70's I first saws an exhibition of Curtis work and was really struck by the photos. Later someone told me Curtis was not well regarded among photographers and scholars because he posed his pictures to make the Indians represent something that never was. I still continued to love the photos as I have seen them displayed in over the years. I always wondered about the controversy regarding the pictures. All the issues surrounding Curtis were expained in Egan's book.

Short Nights tells how it came about that Curtis struggled the best part of his life to get funding for his massive project of documenting the fading culture and way of life of Native Americans. Curtis' purpose was to document traditional tribal culture not to illustrate cultural adaption or how contemporary natives were living. He always sought to show his subject's dignity. Apparently Curtis' motivation was completely misunderstood by the critics I encountered.

Short Nights is a fascinating biography though Egan failed to explain how Curtis could have been so poor a businessman. One needs to have another book of Curtis photos to accompany the Egan narrative. ( )
  janw | Feb 27, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Timothy Egan brings Curtis alive as an energetic overachiever scrambling against the annihilating effects of time, government officials and Christian missionaries
 
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Epigraph
We are vanishing from the earth, yet I cannot think we are useless or else U sen would not have created us. He created all tribes of men and cererontainly had a righteous purpose in creating each. - Geronimo Apache
What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is in the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself at sunset. - Crowfoot Blackfeet
Dedication
In memory of Joan Patricia Lynch Egan, mother of seven, who filled us with the Irish love of the underdog and of the written word. She was sustained by books until the very end.
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The last Indian of Seattle lived in a shack down among the greased piers and coal bunkers of the new city, on what was then called West Street, her hovel in the grip of Puget Sound, off plumb in a rise above the tidal flats.
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Wikipedia in English (5)

"Edward Curtis was dashing, charismatic, a passionate mountaineer, a famous photographer--the Annie Liebowitz of his time. And he was thirty-two years old in 1900 when he gave it all up to pursue his great idea: He would try to capture on film the Native American nation before it disappeared. At once an incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, Egan's book tells the remarkable untold story behind Curtis's iconic photographs, following him throughout Indian country from desert to rainforest as he struggled to document the stories and rituals of more than eighty tribes. Even with the backing of Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan, it took tremendous perseverance--six years alone to convince the Hopi to allow him into their Snake Dance ceremony. The undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate. He would die penniless and unknown in Hollywood just a few years after publishing the last of his twenty volumes. But the charming rogue with the grade-school education had fulfilled his promise--his great adventure succeeded in creating one of America's most stunning cultural achievements."--

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Book description
CONTENTS: First picture -- Encounter on a volcano -- The Big Idea -- Indian Napoleon -- With the President -- In the den of the titan -- Anglos in Indian country -- The artist and his audience -- The Custer conundrum -- The most remarkable man -- On the river of the West -- New art forms -- Moving pictures -- Lost days -- Second wind -- The longest days -- Fight to the finish -- Twilight -- Epilogue: Revival.
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