NATIVOS AMERICANOS Edward S. Curtis ( 1868 – 1952 ) ( click )
AMERICAN NATIVES Edward S. Curtis ( 1868 – 1952 )
Edward Sheriff Curtis , el captador de sombras, como acostumbraban a llamarle los indios que posaban para sus fotografías, nacido en Whitewater (Wisconsin) en 1868, aprendió a hacer fotos y trabajarlas en el laboratorio de forma autodidacta con una cámara que él mismo se construyó siendo todavía un adolescente. Convertido ya en afamado fotógrafo, en 1900 fue invitado, por el naturalista y especialista en temas indios George Bird Grinnell, a participar en la segunda expedición etnológica de Montana, a convivir con las tribus indias de la zona y a fotografiarlas. El mismo Grinnell le enseñó los métodos aptos para registrar científicamente la información. Comienza entonces un proyecto artístico y científico al que Curtis dedicaría toda su vida: fotografiar y estudiar de manera documentada la vida y el espíritu del indio norteamericano, antes de que se “contaminaran” con la irrupción del hombre blanco. Durante una treintena de años, Curtis transitó Estados Unidos, desde Mississippi hasta la costa del Pacífico, y de Nuevo México a Alaska, acumulando más de cuarenta mil fotografías de ochenta tribus indias, diez mil cilindros de fonógrafo, películas, infinidad de notas. Su trabajo se plasmó en la monumental obra impresa de veinte volúmenes The North American Indian. Tan ambiciosa empresa le costó su fortuna y la salud. Falleció en 1952, a la espera de viajar a las regiones amazónicas y a los Andes, sin un dólar y en buena parte olvidado. ( ESPAÑOL)
“ La muerte de cada hombre o mujer significa el fin de alguna tradición, de algún conocimiento o rito sagrado, que sólo ellos poseen. Por lo tanto, la información que pueda ser recopilada para las futuras generaciones debe recogerse ahora o la oportunidad se perderá para siempre” ( ESPAÑOL)
Edward Sheriff Curtis , the collector of shadows, as the Indians used to call him to pose for his photographs, born in Whitewater (Wisconsin) in 1868, learned to take pictures and work in the laboratory so self with a camera that he himself was built still a teenager. Convert already famed photographer, was invited in 1900 by naturalist and specialist subjects Indians George Bird Grinnell, to participate in the second expedition ethnological Montana, to live with Indian tribes in the area and photographed. The Grinnell taught him the same methods suitable for recording information scientifically. Then begins a project to which artistic and scientific Curtis devoted his entire life: photographing and studying so documented life and spirit of the American Indian, before being "contaminated" with the arrival of white men. Over thirty years, Curtis travel to United States, from Mississippi to the Pacific coast, and New Mexico to Alaska, accumulating more than forty thousand photographs eighty Indian tribes, ten thousand phonograph cylinders, movies, countless notes. Their work resulted in the monumental work of twenty printed volumes The North American Indian. As ambitious undertaking cost him his fortune and his health. He died in 1952, pending travel to the Amazon and Andean regions, without a dollar and largely forgotten. ( ENGLISH )
During those 30 years (twice the time he had originally planned for the project), Curtis visited more than 80 tribes, from the Apache to the Zuñi, and earned the personal support of the president, Theodore Roosevelt. He worked 15-hour days for months at a time, spent more than $1.5 million of his benefactor JP Morgan's money, was shot at four times, disowned by his brother, divorced by his wife, and went bankrupt. On returning from one prolonged trip into Eskimo territory he was thrown into jail for failure to make alimony payments. Yet Curtis was indefatigable: no amount of adversity could sap his passion for documenting the traditions of a people who didn't always want to be documented. "I have grown so used to having people yell at me to keep out, and then punctuate their remarks with mud, rock and clubs," he once said, "that I pay but little attention to them if I can only succeed in getting my picture before something hits me." He succeeded in taking more than 40,000 pictures, the best of which formed the basis of The North American Indian, a vast ethnographic study, published in 20 volumes between 1907 and 1930. On the appearance of the first volume, the New York Herald declared it "the most gigantic undertaking in the making of books since the King James edition of the Bible". Curtis was convinced that he was capturing the dying days of "a vanishing race". Indeed, such was his obsession with recording arcane traditions that, to the indignation of the academic community, he would often encourage his subjects to recreate rituals which they no longer performed, even providing his own props where necessary. In his rather self-important introduction to the first volume of The North American Indian, he stated his concern that "the passing of every old man or woman means the passing of some tradition, some knowledge of sacred rites possessed by no other. ( ENGLISH )
Consequently the information that is to be gathered, for the benefit of future generations, respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost for all time." His fears were exaggerated, but the fact that American Indian communities have thrived rather than faded in the years since Curtis died does nothing to diminish the haunting beauty of his photography: whether in an unforgettable shot of Red Hawk, in full headdress, watering his horse on the badlands of South Dakota; or a beautifully composed image of four extravagantly coiffed Hopi women demonstrating a traditional method of grinding maize. There is a romantic quality to many of these pictures, an undercurrent of nostalgia enhanced by Curtis's masterful use of soft focus and the unflinching intensity of his eye-to-eye portraits of heroic figures now long dead. Curtis could not have got these pictures without earning the friendship and trust of the communities he was photographing - and he would stop at nothing to achieve it. At a time when it was rare for a white American to have anything to do with his Indian compatriots, Curtis dived headlong into native culture, earning himself a traditional nickname ("the shadow catcher") and joining Hopi tribesmen in their famous snake dance, "dressed in a G string… and with the regulation snake in my mouth". ( ENGLISH )
Curtis has been praised as a gifted photographer but also criticized by professional ethnologists for manipulating his images. Curtis' photographs have been charged with misrepresenting Native American people and cultures by portraying them in the popular notions and stereotypes of the times. Although the early twentieth century was a difficult time for most Native communities in America, not all natives were doomed to becoming a "vanishing race." At a time when natives' rights were being denied and their treaties were unrecognized by the federal government, many natives were successfully adapting to western society. By reinforcing the native identity as the noble savage and a tragic vanishing race, some believe Curtis detracted attention from the true plight of American natives at the time when he was witnessing their squalid conditions on reservations first-hand and their attempt to find their place in Western culture and adapt to their changing world. In many of his images Curtis removed parasols, suspenders, wagons, and other traces of Western and material culture from his pictures. In his photogravure In a Piegan Lodge, published in The North American Indian, Curtis retouched the image to remove a clock between the two men seated on the ground. ( ENGLISH )
Little Plume with his son Yellow Kidney occupies the position of honor, the space at the rear opposite the entrance. Compare with the unretouched original below. Unretouched original of the image above. Note the clock between Little Plume and Yellow Kidney.
He also is known to have paid natives to pose in staged scenes, wear historically inaccurate dress and costumes, dance and partake in simulated ceremonies. In Curtis' picture Oglala War-Party, the image shows 10 Oglala men wearing feather headdresses, on horseback riding down hill. The photo caption reads, "a group of Sioux warriors as they appeared in the days of inter tribal warfare, carefully making their way down a hillside in the vicinity of the enemy's camp." In truth headdresses would have only been worn during special occasions and, in some tribes, only by the chief of the tribe. The photograph was taken in 1907 when natives had been relegated onto reservations and warring between tribes had ended. Curtis paid natives to pose as warriors at a time when they lived with little dignity, rights, and freedoms. It is therefore suggested that he altered and manipulated his pictures to create an ethnographic simulation of Native tribes untouched by Western society. One of the more balanced reviews of The North American Indian comes from Mick Gidley, Emeritus Professor of American Literature, at Leeds University, in England, who has written a number of works related to the life of Edward S. Curtis: "The North American Indian-extensively produced and issued in a severely limited edition-could not prove popular. But in recent years anthropologists and others, even when they have censured what they have assumed were Curtis' methodological assumptions or quarrelled with the text's conclusions, have begun to appreciate the value of the project's achievement: exhibitions have been mounted, anthologies of pictures have been published, and The North American Indian has increasingly been cited in the researches of others... The North American Indian is not monolithic or merely a monument. It is alive, it speaks, if with several voices, and among those perhaps mingled voices are those of otherwise silent or muted Indian individuals.”
Of the full Curtis opus N. Scott Momaday says: “Taken as a whole, the work of Edward S. Curtis is a singular achievement. Never before have we seen the Indians of North America so close to the origins of their humanity...Curtis’ photographs comprehend indispensible images of every human being at every time in every place” Don Gulbrandsen, who wrote Edward Sheriff Curtis: Visions of the First Americans, puts it this way in his introductory essay on Curtis’ life: “The faces stare out at you, images seemingly from an ancient time and from a place far, far away…Yet as you gaze at the faces the humanity becomes apparent, lives filled with dignity but also sadness and loss, representatives of a world that has all but disappeared from our planet.” In Shadow Catcher: The Life and Work of Edward S. Curtis, Laurie Lawlor reveals that “many Native Americans Curtis photographed called him Shadow Catcher. But the images he captured were far more powerful than mere shadows. The men, women, and children in The North American Indian seem as alive to us today as they did when Curtis took their pictures in the early part of the twentieth century. Curtis respected the Indians he encountered and was willing to learn about their culture, religion and way of life. In return the Indians respected and trusted him. When judged by the standards of his time, Curtis was far ahead of his contemporaries in sensitivity, tolerance, and openness to Native American cultures and ways of thinking.”...
Me recuerdan aquellas fotos de la escolarización que sufrieron, con gran violencia, niños nativos americanos del s.XIX y comienzos del s.XX. Arrancados a sus familias un enorme número de niños fue escolarizado para "educarlos". Se hicieron fotos de estos grupos de niños "antes" y "después" del proceso educativo occidentalizador. Un ejemplo: Cuando miro estas fotos que unas autoridades racistas hicieron para demostrar el estado "salvaje" anterior y el estado "civilizado" posterior yo veo justo lo contrario. La dignidad y la libertad fueron sustuidas por inseguridad y desarraigo. ( ESPAÑOL)