Unpublished photos of Native culture in Alaska circa 1927
In 1927, photographer and ethnologist Edward S. Curtis traveled to the US territory of Alaska to photograph Indigenous peoples and their cultures for his seminal work, The North American Indian. Some of the photos he took in Alaska were never published and are a new exhibition at the Muskegon Museum of Art, Edward S. Curtis: Unpublished Alaska, The Lost Photographs.
Begun in 1906, The North American Indian was Curtis’ life-defining passion, an attempt to record, through writing and photography, the lives of the indigenous peoples of the Southwest, West and North. western United States. This trip, scheduled for a single season, would be the last trip to complete his epic quest. Curtis took hundreds of images during his trip, only a part of which was eventually released. The rest was seated, invisible, passed down from the family until today.
Edward Curtis: Unpublished Alaska, The Lost Photographs presents, for the first time to the public, images taken from the original unused negatives. Over 100 images will include the exhibit, as well as excerpts from Curtis and his daughter Beth’s diaries that describe their often poignant adventures in the Bering Sea.
You can see a selection of these photos online here and photos previously published by Curtis in the Northwestern Archives.
Update: Curtis’ photos are the subject of controversy and criticism, some of which can be viewed here.
The North American Indian is a foundational and controversial blend of documentary and staged photography – one that contributes much of the fundamental imagery and, often stereotypical, understanding possessed by White America in the about more than 82 native tribes that the United States eradicated in a century of colonization. Much has been said about the complexities, contradictions, and conflicts of interest in Curtis’ masterpiece, by both native and non-native scholars. Some argue that by staging photographs and, at times, adding props or props, Curtis took liberties with the concept of ethnography, both imposing and reinforcing white notions of Native American appearances and culture. . Others argue that without Curtis there would be virtually no existing imagery of the cultural heritage of the tribes he worked with.
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