A rare collection of original folios by photographer Edward S. Curtis, titled "The North American Indian," will be auctioned off on October 4 at New York's Swann Galleries. His printed narratives and photos are valued from $1.25 to $1.75 million.
The photographs by Edward Curtis are considered one of the most iconic representations of the traditional American Indian during the late 1800s to the early 1900s.
According to Art Daily, Curtis, born in 1868, was said to take on the responsibility of his mother and siblings at a very young age after his father died, yet still was able to save money for a camera for his love of photography.
"At the National Photographic Convention of 1899, Curtis was awarded the grand prize for three of his soft-focused, sepia-toned images of Puget Sound Native Americans: Evening on the Sound, The Clam Digger, The Mussel Gater," posted in Flury Company.
Married in his late teens with a family of four children, Edward S. Curtis would spend his entire life capturing the most beautiful images of the Indian people ever recorded --- motivated by a personal interest in the enigmatic tribes of Montana and Alaska while accompanied by Edward Harriman and George Bird Grinnell.
A noted Indian expert, Grinnell had become interested in Curtis' photographs and invited him to go to Montana two years later. It was then that the young photo historian photographed the Blackfeet Indians, his first step in developing photographic skills and a project methodology in a life of work among Indian tribes.
Flury and Company states that a major turning point in Curtis' life was when he spent the summer of 1900 with Grinnell while observing the Sun Dance at an encampment of Blood, Blackfeet Algonquin in Montana... it was an exciting pivotal experience for the young photographer. This would increase his interest in Native-American cultures, confirming his desire to continue the study and photographic documentation of the Native tribes of North America. A trip to visit the Hopi reservation in Arizona a few months later further fueled his enthusiasm drive.
Edward S. Curtis, early 20th century Indian photographer
In a special by PBS titled "Shadow Catcher," a name Edward Curtis received from many of the tribes, he " took over 40,000 images and recorded rare ethnographic information from over eighty American Indian tribal groups, ranging from the Eskimo or Inuit people of the far north to the Hopi people of the Southwest."
He photographed "well-known Indian people of that time, including Geronimo, Chief Joseph, Red Cloud, Medicine Crow and others. This monumental accomplishment is comprised of more than 2,200 sepia toned photogravures bound in twenty volumes of written information and small images and twenty portfolios of larger artistic representations"Huffington Post stated that on October 21, 1952 at the age of 84, E. S. Curtis died of a heart attack in Los Angeles, an unknown while living with his daughter Beth and her husband.
Known to have gained access to over a hundred separate tribes, members of what he considered to be a "vanishing race," toward the end of his life Curtis had a physical and nervous breakdown, after completing the publication of volume twenty in 1930. He had fought a declining interest by the American people in the North American Indian, the Great Depression, ending in the sales of less than 300 sets of "The North American Indian."
Daile Kaplan, Director of Photographs at Swann Galleries, describes his work as a hybrid project; part documentation, park romanticization, ultimately rendered with the significance and respect Curtis felt towards the subjects of his life's work:
"Curtis had a passion, an obsessive quality, for capturing everything, before they disappeared," Kaplan stated in an interview with the Huffington Post. "Note the placement of the camera in his photographs. It's eye level. It evokes dignity, intimacy, humanity, all the qualities Curtis was intent on displaying."