Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan
Recommended by Marisa Lowe
Branch Manager, Bonita-Sunnyside Branch
Most people have probably never heard of Edward Curtis. He and his camera may be one of America’s greatest treasures. Curtis was a Seattle resident who spent most of the early 20th century photographing this country’s dwindling Native American population. In all, he took more than 40,000 photographs of tribes, as well as made thousands recordings of their songs and music that would have been lost forever.
His fascinating life story is well-chronicled by author Timothy Egan in Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher. A 20-year-old Curtis moved to Seattle in the 1890s after the death of his father and opened a photography studio. He had begun to build a lucrative business taking pictures of wealthy and prominent city residents, but a chance encounter with “Princess Angeline,” the last remaining child of Chief Joseph Seattle, set him on a new path. He became obsessed with photographing the remaining U.S. tribes. With his bulky camera, and initially his own money, he tracked and photographed nearly every remaining tribal area west of the Mississippi River. Curtis spent months with tribes to make sure he was recording their lives accurately. With his successes, though, also came hardship; Curtis lost the support of his family – his wife had him jailed — and he was constantly hounded by creditors.
Egan’s research and book do a great job of painting a full, intriguing picture of this driven man, the people he captured and his bittersweet impact on American history.