(The poem in the image above is by the Irish poet
Michael Hartnett. Though written to describe the Finns, it applies to
many displaced and colonised peoples).
Messy Nessy article about the photographs of
Edward Curtis, who saw the rapidly disappearing way of life of the North
American Natives, and photographed it. A sad story from every angle.
In 1913, Curtis’ unlikely financier, J.P. Morgan died suddenly. The banker’s son significantly cut sponsorship which soon forced Curtis to abandon his work. During the years he had been away, the photographer’s absence has taken on toll on his family life and several years after his funding dried up, his wife Clara filed for divorce. She was awarded his studio and the family home but Curtis made sure she wouldn’t get his work. Together with his daughter, he made copies of some of his glass plate negatives and then destroyed the originals.
But Curtis was already a ruined man. In a last-ditch attempt, he had tried to make a motion picture for Hollywood, but the film flopped, along with his $75,000 investment. The American Museum of Natural History bought the rights to the movie for $1,500. He then tried to strike a deal with the Morgan Company that saw him give up all his copyrights on the images for The North American Indian in exchange for some minimal funding to return to his field work.
But it was too late, the traditional tribal life he had visited in his earlier career had disappeared...
Curtis was never able to sell any of his work again. His ex-wife had him arrested for failing to pay alimony and child support as the Great Depression dawned on the country. He was hospitalised after suffering a mental and physical breakdown while the Morgan Company sold off most of his life’s work for $1,000 (and a share of any future royalties).
They settled where their dead
were buried and gave names
to every hill and harbour,
names that might become unspoken
but would forever whisper 'Not yours'
to mapping strangers;
their dead became the land they lived on,
became the very lakes and corries,
the very myths and shadows that live
inside the birch and pine tree;
their dead sprung up in grains and berries
nourishing their offspring
that inhabited the cold expanses.
They sowed their gods in caves and hillsides,
gods that might become forgotten
but would forever whisper 'Go home'
to dreaming strangers.
After the land is first immersed
in language, gods, and legends,
sown with blood and bodies,
whatever strangers come and conquer
and stand upon the hills at evening
(for even planters tend to meditation)
they will sense they are not wanted here;
for the wind, the old, old voices
moulding ice and snowdrifts
into Arctic intimations of the shapes,
now quite unhuman, they posess
in a dead and parallel present,
will tell them:
'You are not ours, you are not wanted,'
and the lake, the pine, the birch tree,
the very slope and curve of mountain,
all will say the same:
'The name you call us by is not our name.'