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July 06, 2007


Jay River

The Shadow Catcher is worth reading.

Wiggins demystifies the Curtis legacy in her own entertaining and masterful way in this fantastic book. It is a really good read for all. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

The real ES Curtis legacy exists in a world today of postmortems using the eyes of a century of technological advancement and ethnological correctness.

Edward S. Curtis, legendary photographer, what no Photoshop?

Curtis didn't use a Canon or Nikon SLR, but made his images with a 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 Premo reversible back camera. It had a 22" bellows, and a ground glass back. It took at least 15 minutes to set up a picture, and his fastest shutter speed was 1/100th of a second. He didn't have a "healing" or "cloning" tool, sharpening, curves, or levels... neither Photoshop nor the computer, or the CCD had been invented yet. My God! How did he do it?

For as much criticism as this man has received in the last century, it leads one to think that perhaps he did create a little magic. Perhaps he was on to something in the photographic world. He helped bring photography into line with the great masters of the paint brush, as the age of photography was just beginning.

The beginnings of the modern west certainly resonate in the works of Edward S. Curtis. His photos were made at a time when Indians already driven from their lands were being shorn from their cultures.

This history is very apparent as well, in a film on Curtis's works, The Indian Picture Opera, (Amazon, DVD).

Did he romanticize Indians and the west? Yes, the same way American culture romanticizes everything today as well. We seem to love the world of pop-culture, where everything fits into a nutshell.

Even criticism of Curtis fits into a nutshell.

A journey into the past is always enlightening. Even though photography has been reinvented by digital, where we use layers and effects, remember... it's golden age was a century ago.

The Shadow Catcher seems to show Curtis in a balanced light of contributions and questions. Wiggins fictionalized portions of his life are plausible and entertaining. This book is like a Wikipedia of the past the way it combines history and probable fiction. The plot of Wiggins own life track is of great interest, as she combines it with Curtis's history.

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