A comparison of Edward Curtis and Herodotus

I apologize in advance if this a somewhat oblique and tangential point, but I’ve really been taken by the literary/imagined aspects of the Histories like the story about the two children who the Egyptians test to determine which civilization came first and all the other flights of fancy; in this vein it struck me that there may be an apt parallel between Herodotus and Edward Curtis, who is a photographer whose work I really enjoy. I am sure most are familiar with his work documenting American Indians primarily such as the photograph below:


This image is pretty typical of his work. His images are usually beautifully framed and “capture” Native American Indians in traditional garb. There is a lot of controversy about Curtis though because he paid his subjects and often got them to dress in clothing they didn’t usually wear, or pose in ways they might not have, or because he altered pictures to remove distracting modern elements. So the women in the photo above are unlikely to have dressed this way for every day work like making food above. So ethnographers quibble with Curtis because he wasn’t rigorous enough (in the way perhaps that “serious” historians prefer Thucydides to Herodotus) and artists don’t fully appreciate him either. But for me Curtis falls right into a sweet spot of being a photographic historian and an artist, fulfilling both goals and achieving something greater than either discipline could alone. This is as close as I can get to articulating what I’m thinking about Herodotus right now; I’m as impressed by the literary elements/flights of fancy as I am by the history. For instance, the oracles are more interesting to me as narrative elements than as historical artifacts. Here’s another Curtis image fyi:


06. May 2008 by Arrian
Categories: Commentary, Herodotus | Tags: | 1 comment

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