Edward S. Curtis meeting Nils Thomasson

Edward Curtis and Nils Thomasson photography

To my surprise I found the most interesting exhibition of photography yesterday. I went to the little, Swedish town in the mountains, Funäsdalen, to visit a festival of the indigenous Southern Sámi people, The Lopme Naestie. In the museum there was a photography exhibition, a meeting between the famous american Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) and his legacy of the North American Indian, and Nils Thomasson (1880-1975), who was a Swedish reindeer herder and photographer.

Edward Curtis and Nils Thomasson photography

I know the work of Curtis have been disputed, he has been criticized for making people pose, for staging a time that was not really there at the time of his great work. He was sort of too late to document the traditional life of the first nations of this continent. Or, as one of his present galleries writes: “When Curtis undertook his momentous work on The North American Indian, United States governmental policy had already irrevocably changed the American Indians’ traditional way of life. It had forced their children into Indian Boarding Schools, cut their hair and banned them from speaking their native languages. With few exceptions, our government forbade American Indians’ traditional ceremony, religion and everyday customs.”

Edward Curtis and Nils Thomasson photography

It is a parallel story in Scandinavia. Also the Sámi children were forced into boarding schoold, forbidden to talk their native language. And by this time our government and the priest had destroyd their original religion. The photographer Nils Thomasson, in the picture above in a self portrait with is sister Lisa, worked more or less in the same period as Curtis, documenting his own people and their traditons. The festival I visited is showing that the Sámi culture after all is still alive and kicking. The exhibition will be open untill 30th September, but the museum is closed in may and June.

There are more photos from the festival and exhibition on this link from Lopme Naestie. Disputed or not, this was a very interesting and beautiful exhibition. I have always been interested in Native Americans, and I made a post two years ago with my humble photos of Native Americans participating in a movie production in Norway, years ago and definitely staged. I am sure going back to the photography of Edward S. Curtis. And Thomasson.

Edward Curtis and Nils Thomasson photography

Edward Curtis and Nils Thomasson photography

68 thoughts on “Edward S. Curtis meeting Nils Thomasson

      1. simplement extraordinaire, Bente… I often miss your amazing country and my Norwegian friends… have a great day and tons of inspiration! cheers & sunny thoughts, Mélanie

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  1. Living in North America, I know about Curtis all too well. This post caught me off guard, it is simple yet significant, and has a very beautiful feel. Much like Curtis’ pictures if they were solely pieces of art without the complex history behind it. What a great post.

    Emory

    Hello, Scarlett

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  2. It is a dilemma – is it better to not document at all the lives of native peoples whose lifestyles have irrevocably changed, or have them documented, but possibly inaccurately, or inauthentically? Overall I feel it is best if we know something of these peoples, so their story is not completely forgotten. I love these photos!

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  3. I too am fascinated by the native American Indians. They sure got the shaft from the government. I have a tshirt that states, “Sure, you can trust the government, just ask an American Indian.” They have such a rich culture. I’m lucky in in the rock of it. My hubby has some Mohawk in him. His middle name, Andrade is his Mohawk great grandmother’s name.

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  4. Une histoire sans fin et qui continue encore aujourd’hui envers d’autres peuples d’une autre façon. On prend des terres pour en tirer profit tout en reduisant le territoire de certains peuples. C’est triste. Merci pour ce partage. Cette exposition devait être vraiment interessante. Bonne journée Bente

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  5. Looks fascinating Bente.
    I wouldn’t mind seeing this exhibition myself (but it’s a little far to travel).
    Thanks goodness we’ve got photos to document cultures that are slowly disappearing, otherwise we’d only have the written word and it’s not quite the same as seeing the people, dress & homes in the visual form.

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    1. A bit hard, so I should have used a tripod of course. Instead I used a lot of iso, and I have got a habit of keeping still, since we have a lot of bad light, indoors and outdoors in winter. Thanks, Sreejith.

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  6. Good post. Anyway, there couldn’t be any perfect objective observation. Always “Better than nothing”.
    That sort of criticism was just a criticism for a sake of “Show himself” —– the answer is “OK, show me the real photo yourself”. 🙂

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    1. Never any perfect objective observation. I think this exhibition also discuss, or want to make us reflect, on who is observing, who is taking the photo, and why. These photos are made in the same periode, about a houndred years ago. Thomasson is documenting his own people, and Curtis is an outsider.

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  7. Fascinating looking exhibition Bente, I have one of Curtis’ books of photographs but didn’t know about the controversy. One of the best books (first of a trilogy) that I have ever read on the issue of the N American Indian boarding schools is “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” by Kent Nerburn. Can’t recommend it and the next two (The Wolf At Twilight and The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo) highly enough

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  8. It´s so nice just realizing that you made a mini discovery in the middle of nowhere. There is a lot of interesting stuff on the Swedish countryside, just sitting there, waiting for us to visit.🙂

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  9. Oh, my! Bente, you keep showing me parallels between Scandinavia and my country. And here is another, a most unfortunate one. I regret that the Sami suffered such treatment.

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    1. Oh, I was also going to say that I would give my eye teeth to see some of Curtis’ work, and there you go stumbling into it half way around the world! Unfair!🙂

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  10. Bente, lucky you – I would love to see this exhibition….
    I have a number of books about E S. Curtis and his work; he in my humble opinion, did a great service to the “Indigenous peoples of the Americas” by photographing them – staged or otherwise.
    It would seem that even Theodore Roosevelt thought so, I quote:
    “Mr. Curtis in publishing this book is rendering a real and great service; a service not only to our own people, but to the world of scholarship everywhere” so from a photography perspective his work is superb. As for the criticism; how many others took the time and effort?
    Thank you for posting.

    David.

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  11. It is the same sad story here, too, Bente. The native people of Canada oppressed and their children sent off to residential boarding schools in sometimes horrific conditions. We are still trying to come to terms with this history as a country.
    What a fascinating post, thank you!

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  12. Är 1/16 same🙂
    Fina bilder på utställningen!
    Jo jag läste idag i en tidning om en prisbelönt fotograf f 1935 som heter Ragnhild Haarstad, kanske en släkting??
    Klem og alt godt til dae!

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    1. Not as I know. The people working there only knew it was made for this museum, in cooperation with Jemtli in Østersund for the Thomasson photos, and an American institution of which I can’t tell you the name were I am now. So it seems you hae to go to Jämtland. I can recomend all the area, on both sides of the border. Among other things this exhibition try to tell us something about who is photographying and who is photographed. Something about them and us. But the pictures are wonderful in any way.

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  13. Curtis lived such a long time that he was still alive during the first seven years of my life. I didn’t know about Nils Thomasson, who also lived to a ripe old age, but the curator of the show had a great idea in exhibiting the works of the two ethno-photographers together. I wonder if the two photographers ever met each other in real life, not just in an exhibition.

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    1. I can’t remember any exhibition were I wasn’t allowed to photograph in Norwegian museums and galleries (but I might be wrong). But you can’t photograph others piece of work and use it for illustrating other topics. If you show these pictures to inform about the exhibition then it is normally ok. I asked if it was ok to photograph in this place, and it was. Thanks a lot for your comment.

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