Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis

Timothy Egan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28 (412p) ISBN 978-0-618-96902-9
Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times journalist Egan (The Worst Hard Time) turns his attention to one of Seattle’s most remarkable—yet all but forgotten—residents. In the late 19th century, Edward Curtis was the era’s reigning portrait photographer, so well respected that President Theodore Roosevelt chose him to photograph his daughter’s wedding. Yet in 1900, at the height of his fame, Curtis gave it up to pursue what would become his life’s work—“a plan to photograph all the intact Native American tribes left in North America” before their ways of life disappeared. This idea received the backing of J.P. Morgan and culminated in a critically acclaimed 20-volume set, The North American Indian, which took Curtis 30 years to complete and left him divorced and destitute. Unfailingly sympathetic to his subject, Egan shadows Curtis as he travels from Roosevelt’s summer home at Sagamore Hill to the mesas and canyons of the Southwest tribes and to the rain forests of the Coastal Indians and the isolated tundra on Nunivak Island. Egan portrays the dwindling tribes, their sacred rites (such as the Hopi snake dance), customs, and daily lives, and captures a larger-than-life cast. With a reporter’s eye for detail, Egan delivers a gracefully written biography and adventure story. Agent: Carol Mann, Carol Mann Agency. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/09/2012
Release date: 10/09/2012
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