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Monthly Masters DiscussionMonthly Masters' Discussion - April 2019 - Edward Curtis's "Chaiwa"

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minniev
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Monthly Masters' Discussion - April 2019 - Edward Curtis's "Chaiwa"

Post by minniev » Mon Apr 01, 2019 2:42 pm

 Introduction

Between 1900 and 1930, Edward Curtis traveled deep into Indian territories and lived among dozens of Native tribes. He captured the authentic ways of life of over 80 Native cultures, producing over 40,000 glass plate negatives, 10,000 wax cylinder recordings, 4,000 pages of anthropological text, and a feature-length film. His dedication culminated in the production of  The North American Indian, the most extensive and expensive photographic project ever undertaken. His personal finances were often in crisis but he managed to recruit funding from institutions like the Smithsonian, and private philanthropists like J Piedmont Morgan.

Curtis worked with a furious frenzy because he believed he was recording “a vanishing race.” Curtis took thousands of photographs for The North American Indian—predominantly portraits but also landscapes, still lifes, scenes of everyday life, and more. In retrospect it should be obvious that such an aim was far from straightforward. Many images depict people who were actually reconstructing for the camera ways of life that had died out. Sometimes—as Curtis confessed was the case among the Navajos—the reenactment of ceremonies “broke down” traditional beliefs and led to divisiveness among the people. But in the main, despite his romanticized and sometimes incorrect vision, the pictures are profoundly respectful of Native American people, presenting them and their varied cultures with dignity and pride. 

As you consider this image, here are some questions that may help formulate your thinking.

Questions to Consider
1.Is this a successful portrait? Why or why not?
2.What do you think of the pose? The level of detail? The lighting? The toning?
3.What does the subject’s expression and posture say to you?
4.Curtis often asked his subjects to wear traditional garments and use traditional objects when being photographed. What is your opinion of this practice?
5.There is considerable controversy today about photographing people who are considered “unfortunate” In the era in which Curtis worked, no population was more unfortunate than the native tribes. Curtis fully believed they would be extinguished in his lifetime. How does that affect body of work? What is your opinion of Curtis’s ethics?
6. Here is a link to a story about a recent award winning photo. https://fstoppers.com/news/does-behind- ... ged-353100. Is this a similar situation, or something altogether different? Why or why not?
7. Have you ever experienced a relevant ethical dilemmas in your photography? Share a story and/or image if you’d like.

Links for Further Study
http://arthistorynewsreport.blogspot.co ... urtis.html
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Edward-S-Curtis
https://www.si.edu/spotlight/edward-sheriff-curtis
https://daily.jstor.org/edward-s-curtis ... s-reality/
https://edwardcurtis.com
https://www.artandobject.com/articles/r ... d-s-curtis
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B006R8PH4I/re ... TF8&btkr=1
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters ... tcher/568/
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Edward_S._Curtis_Collection_People_021.jpg
fair use:http://arthistorynewsreport.blogspot.co ... urtis.html
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by davechinn » Tue Apr 02, 2019 3:03 pm

Questions to Consider
1.Is this a successful portrait? Why or why not?
I would consider this to be a successful portrait, because this style and time era, IMO was/is considered to be unique. I'm drawn to this type/style and would consider doing something similar.

2.What do you think of the pose? The level of detail? The lighting? The toning?
The pose appears to be pretty much standard. Nothing seems to be much different with todays poses, other than more of a variety seems to be a requirement. The lighting & toning is subjective, but may be the style of the times based on the availability of equipment, processing, film. In todays terms, the lighting and details would/could be improved. I think the camera level is a little low and probably would have approached it differently.

3.What does the subject’s expression and posture say to you?
The subject's expression shows sadness and poverty, IMO.

4.Curtis often asked his subjects to wear traditional garments and use traditional objects when being photographed. What is your opinion of this practice?
I would be in the same opinion to wear traditional garments.

5.There is considerable controversy today about photographing people who are considered “unfortunate” In the era in which Curtis worked, no population was more unfortunate than the native tribes. Curtis fully believed they would be extinguished in his lifetime. How does that affect body of work? What is your opinion of Curtis’s ethics?
As you know I have been known to capture the “unfortunate” such as the homeless and have been criticized from time to time. However, I have backed off or maybe have lost some interest only to move on to a different subject matter. If I come across an interesting character I wouldn't hesitate no matter how much criticism I would face.

6. Here is a link to a story about a recent award winning photo. https://fstoppers.com/news/does-behind- ... ged-353100. Is this a similar situation, or something altogether different? Why or why not?
I read this story about 3 or 4 weeks ago and I'm glad you posted the link. My first thought to the winning image (prior to reading the complete story) was wow, what a great image. I love the post processing, pose and expression. It reminds me of scenes you and I have encountered in New Orleans. It is an image I would loved to have taken and called my own. However, after reading the complete story and how the image came about, I have a different opinion. I felt deceived and considered the photographer to not be faithful and pretty much lied to gain profit. I have done composites and not mentioned the fact of it being a composite, but only did so when posting to actually see if anyone could tell the difference, but in the end come clean with the truth. Similar scenario? Maybe !!!

7. Have you ever experienced a relevant ethical dilemmas in your photography? Share a story and/or image if you’d like.
There is no doubt, but I can't really think of any at the moment.
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Post by minniev » Tue Apr 02, 2019 4:09 pm

davechinn wrote:
Tue Apr 02, 2019 3:03 pm
Questions to Consider
1.Is this a successful portrait? Why or why not?
I would consider this to be a successful portrait, because this style and time era, IMO was/is considered to be unique. I'm drawn to this type/style and would consider doing something similar.

2.What do you think of the pose? The level of detail? The lighting? The toning?
The pose appears to be pretty much standard. Nothing seems to be much different with todays poses, other than more of a variety seems to be a requirement. The lighting & toning is subjective, but may be the style of the times based on the availability of equipment, processing, film. In todays terms, the lighting and details would/could be improved. I think the camera level is a little low and probably would have approached it differently.

3.What does the subject’s expression and posture say to you?
The subject's expression shows sadness and poverty, IMO.

4.Curtis often asked his subjects to wear traditional garments and use traditional objects when being photographed. What is your opinion of this practice?
I would be in the same opinion to wear traditional garments.

5.There is considerable controversy today about photographing people who are considered “unfortunate” In the era in which Curtis worked, no population was more unfortunate than the native tribes. Curtis fully believed they would be extinguished in his lifetime. How does that affect body of work? What is your opinion of Curtis’s ethics?
As you know I have been known to capture the “unfortunate” such as the homeless and have been criticized from time to time. However, I have backed off or maybe have lost some interest only to move on to a different subject matter. If I come across an interesting character I wouldn't hesitate no matter how much criticism I would face.

6. Here is a link to a story about a recent award winning photo. https://fstoppers.com/news/does-behind- ... ged-353100. Is this a similar situation, or something altogether different? Why or why not?
I read this story about 3 or 4 weeks ago and I'm glad you posted the link. My first thought to the winning image (prior to reading the complete story) was wow, what a great image. I love the post processing, pose and expression. It reminds me of scenes you and I have encountered in New Orleans. It is an image I would loved to have taken and called my own. However, after reading the complete story and how the image came about, I have a different opinion. I felt deceived and considered the photographer to not be faithful and pretty much lied to gain profit. I have done composites and not mentioned the fact of it being a composite, but only did so when posting to actually see if anyone could tell the difference, but in the end come clean with the truth. Similar scenario? Maybe !!!

7. Have you ever experienced a relevant ethical dilemmas in your photography? Share a story and/or image if you’d like.
There is no doubt, but I can't really think of any at the moment.
Thank you for such a thoughtful and thorough reply. This topic struck me in a similar way because I too photograph unfortunate people. I also photograph Native Americans. I will photograph anyone who interests me if they are willing. I ask permission when it seems appropriate, but I do not pose people or ask them to do anything in particular.

One thing about the expression on this young lady of Curtis's: while it looks like a terrible sadness, there is another layer that might, or might not, be in play. Certainly these people had much to be sad about. Still, many Native Americans, particularly in this era but still today, have a cultural prohibition against eye contact. Direct eye contact, especially for more than a moment, is considered insulting and perhaps somewhat aggressive. When my husband first began working in mental health with the Choctaw tribe, he saw that many clients were wrongly suspected of being depressed or abused because of lack of eye contact, and solemn expressions. Cultural norms are subject to misunderstanding.

I am grateful for the work Curtis did. Many tribes DID disappear, and the customs and regalia have all but disappeared in others. He did important historical work, imperfectly, as all of us do by virtue of being human. But his collection is inspiring to study.

The contest photo seems creepy to me. Either she was recruited to pose, whether paid or not (I hope she was), or they cornered her. I hope it was the former. The circumstances seem to have been misrepresented for the contest purposes, at least to some degree. How different, though, than if I had won a landscape contest with a photo I took in the scrum below? I don't really know. I remember that we saw, on our last NOLA trip, a photography group clustered together taking pictures of a private parade. Shots from that, and of the larger group, might be interesting. I didn't take a photo of the group.
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"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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