Performing Archive

Introduction: Media, Technology and Mediations

This path focuses on the many ways that Edward Curtis interacted with and used media. Throughout his life, Curtis worked at the intersection of a variety of identities. At various moments was a photographer, an artist, an ethnologist, a historian, a biographer, a musicologist, a filmmaker, a linguist and a designer. Each of these identities demanded that he utilize media in slightly different ways. Ethical considerations like the non-interference of a present day scientist or anthropologist were not the same in Curtis's moment, but these ideas were developing at that time and tensions between the desire to create art and the desire to create a scientific and historical document run throughout Curtis's work and writings.

Curtis adopted nearly every type of technology available to him at the time that he was working, from the 1890s into the late 1920s. These technologies included not only a wide range of photographic processes, but newly available audio and visual recording media as well. Curtis worked a very unique moment in time. Had he taken up his work a few decades earlier, he would have been much more limited in the types of documentation he could undertake. 

In the first section of this path, you can explore the different types of technology Curtis used while working on The North American Indian as well as some of his other projects. The second part of the path pauses to consider Curtis's portraiture as a style, both artistically and politically. As this book grows, other sections will be added here, placing additional aspects of Curtis's media and style into focus. 

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