Heart For The Native

Photo credit:  Smithsonian/Flickr

Photo credit: Smithsonian/Flickr

Many people have inspired my journey as an artist but there’s one who stands out beyond all others, and his name is Edward Curtis. His photographs bring life to a culture that I want to do more than just understand but embrace as part of my own.

The example he lived by has shown me that a person rarely succeeds without vision and perseverance. Ambitious and talented, he was dedicated to his dream of documenting indigenous peoples of North America in words, images and film.

During the 1900s, Curtis spent extended periods of time living with various tribes and wanted to learn their customs and beliefs and where possible, take part in their ancient ceremonies.

On a quest for knowledge, he was open to understanding and relating to native culture and a way of life that differed from white society. “He was driven to photograph everything he saw... he wanted to know more... to understand these people from the inside.” - Don Gulbrandsen

He witnessed firsthand the essence of what it was to be native and gained the trust of chiefs and tribal members. The experience intensified his awareness of the pressures many tribes were under to assimilate into white society.

Yet, those he photographed were not in hiding, nor had they deserted their existence. Curtis found men, women and children continuing to survive as best they could in accordance with their traditional ways.

The thousands of photographs he took do not reflect the demise of a race or culture but instead depict, with reverence, the diversity of indigenous peoples across Canada and the U.S.

When I look at the photographs Edward Curtis took, I sense the gentleness and depth of the people he respected. His images prove to me that the spirit of First Americans is still alive and breathing.

Angela Gnyp