Reporter 424, 5 October 1998

Native American culture captured on film

A thirty-year study of North American Indian culture, including thousands of photographs, is discussed in a new book by Professor Mick Gidley of the School of English. The release of Edward S Curtis and the North American Indian, Incorporated coincides with Native Nations, a major Indian photographic exhibition at the Barbican Centre, for which Professor Gidley was a consultant.

“Edward Curtis began taking photographs of Indians in the 1890s, a project which spawned the very first narrative documentary film, and remains one of the most comprehensive and influential studies of Native American culture,” said Professor Gidley.

“Most of the American Indians were living on reservations when Curtis began taking photographs so sometimes supplied them with costumes to re-create their ancient rituals and ceremonies,” he added.

“The book is a study of how such practices affected the American people’s understanding of Native American life.”

Professor Gidley has visited nearly every American Indian reservation in the Western United States and regularly speaks about their culture at conferences, including lectures to the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Nebraska next month.

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