Directed by Anne Makepeace • Documentary • 2000 • 84 minutes
Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) was a driven, charismatic, obsessive artist, a pioneer photographer who set out in 1900 to document traditional Indian life. He rose from obscurity to become the most famous photographer of his time, created an enormous body of work—10,000 recordings, 40,000 photographs, and a full length ethnographic motion picture—and died poor and forgotten.
Coming to Light tells the dramatic story of Curtis' life, the creation of his monumental work, and his changing views of the people he set out to document. The film also gives Indian people a voice in the discussion of Curtis' images. Hopi, Navajo, Eskimo, Blackfeet, Crow, Blood, Piegan, Suquamish, and Kwakiutl people who are descended from Curtis subjects or who are using his photographs for cultural preservation respond to the pictures, tell stories about the people in the photographs, and discuss the meaning of the images.
The film presents a complex, dedicated, flawed life, and explores many of the ironies inherent in Curtis's story, the often controversial nature of his romantic images, and the value of the photographs to Indian people and to all Americans today.