Keep Your Dignity and Stand on It

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis byTimothy Egan

Just finished it this morning and find myself in the sweet afterglow of my favorite book of the year. My thoughts haven't become solid matter yet and I blather on to friends the random, out-of-order pieces that come tumbling out.

I knew almost nothing about Edward Curtis. I knew a tiny bit about the history of photography. And pretty much all I knew about Native Americans came from my limited education on the Iroquois Confederacy, the result of my Western New York roots. I am blown away by something on almost every single page of this book.

It is glorious, velvety-rich history, fascinating in its details. Clearly, Egan had some amazing access to primary sources, including the Mazamas, the Rainier Club in Seattle where Curtis lived for years, the papers of Edmond S. Meany, and on and on. There are photos in the book but you'll want to see more.

The book is held gently in the hands of the first and last chapters. How did Egan do it? Make them paired so perfectly together, about two completely different people, the subject and the photographer, yet one and the same at the end of their lives? Astounding.

If you were to give one book this year as a holiday gift to the nonfiction reader in your life, you should give this one. Then get your game face on for next year, because you will have a reputation to uphold. 

Comments

Thanks for the review Tama F! You make me excited to read this book! I don't know that Native American history or the history of photography are particular interests of mine (though I did see a documentary once about early photography that made me admire the chutzpah of early nature photographers. The weight of the equipment and the fragility of the plates! Wow!), but I really enjoyed Egan's "The Big Burn" and I'm willing to follow where he leads in this instance.
Hi- this book has been on my list ever since it came out. Thanks for bringing it back to my notice. (I read his book The Worst Hard Time and loved it.) Thanks!

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