At the turn of the 20th century, Edward Curtis became a central figure in the American arts, photographing the likes of President Roosevelt and counting J.P. Morgan as one of his benefactors. "Teddy Roosevelt said that the picture that Curtis took of him in his home in Sagamore Hill was the best picture anyone had ever taken of a man who was the most popular American in the world," says Timothy Egan, author of the new book, "Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis."
But Curtis's real triumph were his photographs of Native Americans. Over the course of 30 years, the photographer with a sixth grade education took 40,000 photographs of Native Americans, preserved 10,000 audio recordings, and created the most definitive archive of the American Indian.
Timothy Egan explains that Curtis's goal was to document Native American life before many of their old customs disappeared.
"Curtis had a way of finding the humanity in people," Egan explains. He understood the particularly tragic history of Native Americans – and managed to tell that story through his photographs – because, Egan says, "he bothered to get their story down."