Friday, January 4, 2013

Timothy Egan - Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

It's time to blog again... after a LONG bit of "blog block"!
      The first book I'm reading in 2013 is Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher:  The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.  If you are a Timothy Egan fan, you're going to love this new book.  The Worst Hard Time, for which he won the National Book Award is one of my favorite books.  I knew when I saw his new book, I had to read it!
     Timothy Egan writes about Edward Curtis - a famous mountaineer and photographer - with riveting and thought-provoking insight.  It's the kind of narrative nonfiction that I can't put down.
     Edward Curtis was a man on a mission when he decided to capture as much of Native American life as he could... on both film and audio.  Curtis moved from studio photographer to "archiver" of Native American life like no other person.  He settled in Seattle after moving from Minnesota.  In the early 1900s, he decided that he would capture as much of Native American life as possible before the life of our country's original inhabitants disappeared forever.  He was willing to give up everything - his family, his business, his rights as a photographer - to pursue his dream of capturing authentic insight about the lives of Native Americans.  And, as a result of his persistence, there are over 40,000 photographs and 10,000 audio recordings captured all over our country.  Curtis was driven.  He died in 1952 at a time when his work was all but forgotten (Mr. Egan's book will certainly revitalize an interest in Curtis's photography).
     As I read the first chapter about Chief Seattle's daughter, Princess Angeline, I was awestruck.  The conflict between the development of the Seattle area and the demise of the native people who occupied the area is brilliantly described and impeccably researched.  It was Curtis's interest in Angeline that nudged hims to spend 30 years photographing Native Americans... he spent over ten years trying to persuade the Hopi to let him into their Snake Dance ceremony.  By 1930 he had created 20 volumes of documentation.  Amazing.  And, we learn it was not without the sacrifice.
     Timothy Egan is a gifted writer.  He writes with passion and purpose.  Check out his essays in the New York Times.  But first, check out Short Nights of the the Shadow Catcher.  

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