Curtis was an exceptional professional
photographer. His early negatives of Native Americans earned international
recognition, and in 1904 his portraits of Seattle society earned him an
invitation to meet President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt admired Curtis'
determination to save Indian culture. The two became friends. Curtis was
bolstered by Roosevelt's enthusiasm and with a letter of introduction
approached financier J. P. Morgan to solicit patronage. What would become
Curtis' magnum opus and a landmark in publishing history, The North American
Indian, began to take shape.
In 1906, Curtis was received into Morgan's office. Initially, Morgan tersely
dismissed Curtis' request. When Curtis showed Morgan the photographs,
Morgan told him to publish them in the finest set of books ever made.
Morgan's assistant said it was only the second time he had seen Morgan
change his mind.
Over 30 years, Curtis fashioned a magnificent, luminous portrait of American
Indian life-documentation of over 125 tribes west of the Mississippi River.
Upon its completion in 1930, "The North American Indian", consisted
of 20 volumes, containing 1172 hand-pressed photogravures and 4000 pages
of written text. Each volume was accompanied by a corresponding portfolio
containing at least 36 large photogravures in each portfolio, 722 in total.
Curtis' work stands a monumental photo-ethnographic publishing project
and an unrivaled masterpiece of visual anthropology. His images remain
indelible in the American consciousness.