Edward Curtis was the Annie Leibovitz of his time. He moved in rarefied circles, a friend to presidents, vaudeville stars, leading thinkers. And he was thirty-two years old in 1900 when he gave it all up to pursue his Great Idea: to capture on film the continent's original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared.
Curtis spent the next three decades traveling, documenting the stories and rituals of more than eighty tribes. Eventually he took more than 40,000 photographs, preserved 10,000 audio recordings, and is credited with making the first narrative documentary film.
His most powerful backer was Theodore Roosevelt, and his patron was J. P. Morgan. He completed his masterwork in 1930, when he published the last of the twenty volumes. Today rare Curtis photogravures bring high prices at auction, and he is hailed as a visionary.
Timothy Egan is a national enterprise reporter for the New York Times. He is the author of five books and the recipient of several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Seattle.
This event is co-sponsored by the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford