During the days of the founding of the United States, the everyday life of the American Indian was the source of legend, speculation, and vivid imaginations. A photographer in the early 1900s used Native American pictures to bring the authentic Indian to life.
Photographer Edward S. Curtis gathered as many as 2,400 photographs depicting life among the American Indians at a time when photographic technologies were new and Native American pictures were relatively scarce. He compiled these Native American pictures into a 20-volume book he called The North American Indian.
In addition to the abundance of Native American pictures featured in the book, it also included ethnological studies and the languages spoken among the different tribal peoples of the American West.
In 1911, Curtis marketed the book as subscriptions and, to promote sales, he traveled the country presenting a magic lantern slide show. He called the promotional tour The Indian Picture Opera. A magic lantern slide show is presented with one image fading into the next and is delivered using stereo-opticon projectors.
The viewing of these stunning Native American pictures was enhanced with the use of a small orchestra, which played music composed of traditional Native American chants and drum rhythms. Curtis himself told stories during these shows that described the daily activities of Native American life and its ceremonies and rituals.
Audiences were spellbound by the breathtaking imagery displayed in the thousands of Native American pictures Curtis brought to them in such entertaining and education fashion. Warm reviews and standing ovations led to the financial success of his groundbreaking book.
Personal financial success and acclaim for Curtis were obvious evidence of the success of his endeavors with the Native American pictures. His traveling opera was marketing genius.
His documentary on the lives of the peoples seen in his Native American pictures had an even bigger measure of success, though. Captivated by the fascinating imagery and tales of these misunderstood Native Americans and enchanted by their indigenous music, audiences willingly acknowledged shame at the savagery and destruction brought to the American frontier in the white man’s mission to settle, and civilize, the Native American tribal peoples.