5 Books Bill Gates Wants You to Read This Summer

Bill Gates — Microsoft CEO turned philanthropist and lifelong learner—has just recommended five books to put on your summer reading list. If you’re looking for a light beach read, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you have a Gates-like mind, you might find that these books will make you “think in new ways” and perhaps keep you up past your bedtime. On his website, the video above comes accompanied by reasons for reading each work. Below we’re quoting directly from Mr. Gates:

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson. I hadn’t read any science fiction for a decade when a friend recommended this novel. I’m glad she did. The plot gets going in the first sentence, when the moon blows up. People figure out that in two years a cataclysmic meteor shower will wipe out all life on Earth, so the world unites on a plan to keep humanity going by launching as many spacecraft as possible into orbit. You might lose patience with all the information you’ll get about space flight—Stephenson, who lives in Seattle, has clearly done his research—but I loved the technical details.Seveneves inspired me to rekindle my sci-fi habit.

How Not to be Wrong, by Jordan Ellenberg. Ellenberg, a mathematician and writer, explains how math plays into our daily lives without our even knowing it. Each chapter starts with a subject that seems fairly straightforward—electoral politics, say, or the Massachusetts lottery—and then uses it as a jumping-off point to talk about the math involved. In some places the math gets quite complicated, but he always wraps things up by making sure you’re still with him. The book’s larger point is that, as Ellenberg writes, “to do mathematics is to be, at once, touched by fire and bound by reason”—and that there are ways in which we’re all doing math, all the time.

The Vital Question, by Nick Lane. Nick is one of those original thinkers who makes you say: More people should know about this guy’s work. He is trying to right a scientific wrong by getting people to fully appreciate the role that energy plays in all living things. He argues that we can only understand how life began, and how living things got so complex, by understanding how energy works. It’s not just theoretical; mitochondria (the power plants in our cells) could play a role in fighting cancer and malnutrition. Even if the details of Nick’s work turn out to be wrong, I suspect his focus on energy will be seen as an important contribution to our understanding of where we come from.

The Power to Compete, by Ryoichi Mikitani and Hiroshi Mikitani. I have a soft spot for Japan that dates back three decades or so, when I first traveled there for Microsoft. Today, of course, Japan is intensely interesting to anyone who follows global economics. Why were its companies—the juggernauts of the 1980s—eclipsed by competitors in South Korea and China? And can they come back? Those questions are at the heart of this series of dialogues between Ryoichi, an economist who died in 2013, and his son Hiroshi, founder of the Internet company Rakuten. Although I don’t agree with everything in Hiroshi’s program, I think he has a number of good ideas. The Power to Compete is a smart look at the future of a fascinating country.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Noah Yuval Harari. Both Melinda and I read this one, and it has sparked lots of great conversations at our dinner table. Harari takes on a daunting challenge: to tell the entire history of the human race in just 400 pages. He also writes about our species today and how artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and other technologies will change us in the future. Although I found things to disagree with—especially Harari’s claim that humans were better off before we started farming—I would recommend Sapiens to anyone who’s interested in the history and future of our species.

You can get more ideas from Bill Gates at Gates Notes.

If you’re looking to do some more DIY education this summer, don’t miss the following rich collections:

700 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

1200 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter,Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet,sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

245 Films by Female Directors You Can Stream Right Now on Netflix

the punk singer

Sadly, despite great strides since the 1970s, Hollywood (and filmmaking in general) is still a boys’ club, especially when it comes to those behind the camera. Until Kathryn Bigelow won her 2010 Oscar for The Hurt Locker, no female director had claimed the prize. And not a single woman has even been nominated for Best Cinematography.




Director Sally Potter calls it the cast-iron ceiling, and says it’s still very difficult to get a film made, even for a director with her pedigree.

But as somebody on this Metafilter thread suggests, if we want to support female directors, we need to watch more films by female directors. This Google Doc lists 245 films directed by women that are currently available on Netflix. It’s a mix of art house and popcorn fare, and all worth checking out…and no doubt many Open Culture readers have seen quite a few already. Here’s our Top Ten suggestions from that list, with four more thrown in for good measure. And yes, we know that Netflix is a paid service, but, not to worry, you can sign up for a month-long free trial.

There’s so many more choices at the link, from documentary to drama and horror to romance.

And while we’re at it, that other streaming service, Hulu, has the full Criterion collection, where many more female directors can be found: Agnes Varda, Catherine Breillat, Chantal Ackerman, Barbara Koppel, and more. Hulu offers a one-week free trial when you sign up.

via Metafilter

Related content:

85 Compelling Films Starring and/or Directed By Women of Color: A List Created by Director Ava DuVernay & Friends on Twitter

100 Overlooked Films Directed by Women: See Selections from Sight & Sound Magazine’s New List

An Ambitious List of 1400 Films Made by Female Filmmakers

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ List of 13 Recommended Books

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been riding a wave so high these past few years that most honest writers would confess to at least some small degree of envy. And yet anyone—writer or reader—who appreciates Coates’ rigorous scholarship, stylistic mastery, and enthralling personal voice must also admit that the accolades are well-earned. Winner of the National Book Award for his second autobiographical work, Between the World and Me and recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” Coates is frequently called on to discuss the seemingly intractable racism in the U.S., both its long, gritty history and continuation into the present. (On top of these credentials, Coates, an unabashed comic book nerd, is now penning the revived Black Panther title for Marvel, currently the year’s best-selling comic.)




As a senior editor at The Atlantic, Coates became a national voice for black America with articles on the paradoxes of Barack Obama’s presidency and the bootstraps conservatism of Bill Cosby (published before the comedian’s prosecution). His article “The Case for Reparations,” a lengthy, historical examination of Redlining, brought him further into national prominence. So high was Coates’ profile after his second book that Toni Morrison declared him the heir to James Baldwin’s legacy, a mantle that has weighed heavily and sparked some backlash, though Coates courted the comparison himself by styling Between the World and Me after Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. In doing so, writes Michael Eric Dyson, “Coates did a daring thing… waged a bet that the American public could absorb even more of the epistolary device, and wrote a book-length essay to his son.”

Not only did America “absorb” the device; the nation’s readers marveled at Coates’ deft mixture of existential toughness and emotional vulnerability; his intense, unsentimental take on U.S. racist animus and his moving, loving portraits of his close friends and family. As a letter from a father to his son, the book also works as a teaching tool, and Coates liberally salts his personal narrative with the sources of his own education in African American history and politics from his father and his years at Howard University. In the wake of the fame the book has brought him, he has continued what he seems to view as a public mission to educate, and interviews and discussions with the writer frequently involve digressions on his sources of information, as well as the books that move and motivate him.

So it was when Coates sat down with New York Times Magazine and ProPublica reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones at New York’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture last year. You can watch the full interview at the top of the post. During the course of the hour-long talk, Coates mentioned the books below, in the hopes, he says, that “folks who read” Between the World and Me “will read this book, and then go read a ton of other books.” He both began and ended his recommendations with Baldwin.

1. “The Fire Next Time” in Collected Essays by James Baldwin.

2. The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life, His Own by David Carr

3. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist

4. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Era of the Civil War by James McPherson

5. Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960 by Arnold R. Hirsch

6. Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America by Beryl Satter

7. Confederate States of America – Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union from Avalon Project, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School

8. Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court nomination That Changed America by Wil Haygood

9. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia by Edmund S. Morgan

10. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life by Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields

11. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings

12. Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign against Lynching by Paula J. Giddings

13. Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household by Thavolia Glymph

Finally, Coates references the famous debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley at Cambridge University in 1965, which you can read about and watch in full here.

via The New York Public Library

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Paul McCartney Perform Live, with 10-Year-Old Leila on Bass, in Buenos Aires Yesterday

A few weeks ago, I took my kids to see Paul McCartney launch his One on One Tour in Fresno, California. The highlight? Seeing him play “Hard Day’s Night” and “Love Me Do” live for the first time since the 1960s? Not really. Watching Sir Paul wave at my kids when they held up a “Cheerio Paul” sign? Yeah, that was worth the price of the tickets alone.

But none of that compares to the scene that played out earlier this week in Buenos Aires. Above, watch little Leila sweetly ask Paul to play a little bass, get her wish granted, and rock to some “Get Back.” It’s pretty adorable.

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Behold the Sea Organ: The Massive Experimental Musical Instrument That Makes Music with the Sea

If you ever find yourself in Zadar, Croatia, pay a visit to The Sea Organ, the experimental musical instrument created by the architect Nikola Bašić. Unveiled in 2005, the organ–made of 35 polyethylene pipes tucked under white marble steps–turns the wind and the waves into a never-ending stream of avant-garde sounds. In 2006, the Sea Organ won the 2006 European Prize for Urban Public Space. Hear it make its music above.

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Crowdsourced Database Will Locate the Burial Sites of Forgotten US Slaves

slave grave database

Image courtesy of National Burial Database of Enslaved Americans

The stories are infrequent but deeply compelling: one recent news item in the AP’s The Big Story describes the bones of 14 people from the 18th or early 19th century, discovered in Albany, NY, “wrapped in shrouds, buried in pine boxes and—over centuries—forgotten.” Seven adults, five infants, and two children, soon to be “publically memorialized and [re]buried in personalized boxes beside prominent families in old Albany.”

Over the 11 years since the bones’ discovery by construction workers, scientists have been able to piece together clues about what these lives were like: marked by constant toil and physical hardship. Genetic markers, and broken bones, notched and missing teeth, and arthritic joints offer the only means of identifying the remains. A granite headstone donated to the new gravesite will read, “Here lies the remains of 14 souls known only to God. Enslaved in life, they are slaves no more.”

In 1991, many miles south in lower Manhattan, a find of the remains of 419 people eventually gave rise to an even more impressive memorial and museum, the African Burial Ground National Monument, a reminder of not only the slave labor that built New York City, but also of the people bought and sold in the once bustling slave market at what is now Wall Street.

Elmwood

Creative Commons photo by Bruce Guthrie

Memorials like this one and the recent Albany burial site do not change the facts or right the wrongs of history, but they do make visible lives and histories long buried and forgotten. “Among the scars left by the heritage of slavery,” writes Edward Rothstein at The New York Times, “one of the greatest is an absence: where are the memorials, cemeteries, architectural structures or sturdy sanctuaries that typically provide the ground for a people’s memory?” This is precisely the question Sandra Arnold is now asking, in a very literal sense, for a project called The National Burial Database of Enslaved Americans (NBDEA).

A Graduate Fellow at Brown University, Arnold founded the Periwinkle Initiative, “a public humanities and education initiative dedicated to preserving cultural heritage associated with enslaved Americans.” The NBDEA—Periwinkle’s core project in collaboration with Fordham University, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the 1772 Foundation—aims, writes Arnold at The New York Times, to “be the first national repository of information on the grave sites of individuals who died while enslaved or after they were emancipated.”

The grave sites The NBDEA compiles will depend in some part on the public: “Anyone who comes to the website will eventually be able to submit information about these places and conduct searches.” Currently, the site remains in development, unavailable for public searches, but users can make preliminary submissions. Arnold describes the process of sifting through the submissions she has received as “painful.”

Burial grounds that should be revered spaces… instead are covered by playgrounds and apartment complexes. I have learned that many grave sites of formerly enslaved Americans are abandoned, undocumented, desecrated by the asphalt of “development,” and lack any type of memorialization or recognition. The burial grounds are often found incidentally by developers under parks and office buildings, and for many of the sites, oral history is their only source of documentation.

Just such an oral history preserved the unmarked gravesite of one of Arnold’s ancestors in her hometown in West Tennessee. Allison Meier at Hyperallergic points to some specifically troubled sites like those Arnold describes, including “a slave cemetery… bulldozed in Houston,” another “covered with asphalt in Atlanta,” and a third “found below a Harlem bus depot.”

Arnold hopes that recording and memorializing these “sacred spaces… can contribute to healing, understanding and potentially even reconciliation.” Additionally, she cites a “pragmatic” rationale for the project, since “burial grounds are valuable resources for scholars and historians, serving as road maps for genealogical and historical research.”

The project presents a tremendous opportunity for the many thousands of citizen historians scattered across the country to come together and fill in the absences in our historical memory; and the centralized database will also draw more attention to the few memorials that do exist, many of which, writes Meier, “are often staggeringly small in relation to the number of lives they remember.” She refers to the example of a “miniature mass grave monument” in Memphis’ Elmwood Cemetary (above), a “single stone [that] memorializes over 300 slaves who died between 1852 and 1865.”

Like The Freedman’s Bureau Project, a recent online database of 1.5 million historical documents related to slavery, The NBDEA will further historicize and humanize “overlooked lives,” writes Arnold, that “are an inextricable part of the historical narrative of our country.”

Can can visit The National Burial Database of Enslaved Americans here.

via Hyperallergic

Related Content:

1.5 Million Slavery Era Documents Will Be Digitized, Helping African Americans to Learn About Their Lost Ancestors

Freed Slave Writes Letter to Former Master: You Owe Us $11,680 for 52 Years of Unpaid Labor (1865)

The Anti-Slavery Alphabet: 1846 Book Teaches Kids the ABCs of Slavery’s Evils

Visualizing Slavery: The Map Abraham Lincoln Spent Hours Studying During the Civil War

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Night John Belushi Cartwheeled Onstage During a Grateful Dead Show & Sang “U.S. Blues” with the Band (1980)

Sure, I know ice truckers and snow crab fishermen have it rough, but I’ve always thought the hardest job in the world is to be a comedian. You walk out on stage, night after night, throwing yourself on the mercy of the fickle crowd, with nothing but your wits to keep you afloat. It’s never been any wonder to me that so many comedians turn to various substances to cope with the heckling, chilly silences, and disinterested, half-empty rooms. Even successful, beloved comics face tremendous performance pressures. Some of them crack.




And some, like John Belushi, hop onstage during a Grateful Dead show at the Capitol Theatre, cartwheel over to a microphone before the chorus of “U.S. Blues,” and join in on backing vocals.

Belushi’s impromptu 1980 prank performance with the Dead was not, initially, welcomed. He had, reports Live for Live Music, “met with some resistance from the band” when he asked to join in during the encore, and drummer Bill Kreutzmann “had to nix Belushi’s wishes.” So Belushi, true to form, took matters into his own anarchic hands, staging what Kreutzmann called in his 2015 autobiography a “comedic ambush.”

He had on a sport coat with small American flags stuffed into both of his breast pockets and he landed his last cartwheel just in time to grab a microphone and join in on the chorus. The audience and everyone in the band—except for Phil—ate it up. It couldn’t have been rehearsed better. Belushi had impeccable comedic timing, musicality, balls, the works. And apparently, he didn’t take no for an answer.

Belushi’s musical antics, and surprising acrobatic agility, are already well-known to fans of The Blues Brothers. His penchant for real-life musical chaos—such as his staging of an authentically riotous punk show on Saturday Night Live—have also become part of his estimable comic legend.

Sadly, no video of the stunt seems to exist, but you can see Kreutzmann tell the Belushi story in the interview at the top of the post and, just above, hear that night’s encore performance of “U.S. Blues.” Listen closely at around the 1:50 mark and you’ll hear Belushi join in on the chorus. We’ll have to imagine the cartwheels, but it probably looked something like this.

Hear the full Dead show from that night here. And if you’re craving more musical Belushi, check out his spasmodic impression of the late, great Joe Cocker.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Please Touch the Art: Watch a Blind Man Experience His Own Portrait for the First Time

We all know the rules of art museums: look, but don’t touch. This doesn’t bother most of us most of the time, but for art-lovers who happen to be blind and thus use feeling as a substitute for seeing, it presents a problem indeed — but it also opens up an artistic opportunity. “Cantor Fine Art, a just-launched gallery by father and son team Larry and Sam Cantor, offers a story of a different kind of physical interaction with art in their project, Please Touch the Art,” writes The Creator’s Project’s Gabrielle Bruney. “They partnered with artist Andrew Myers to create a tactile painting that is appreciable by both sighted and blind art lovers.”




In the five-minute video above, you can see — or if visually impaired, hear — Myers discussing the beginnings of his “screw pieces,” images made by driving countless screws into a piece of wood, each one ultimately acting as a kind of physical, three-dimensional pixel. Though Myers didn’t begin these works with the blind in mind, one such gallery-goer’s visit to his show, and the “huge smile on his face” when he put his hand to the screw pieces, got him thinking of the possibilities in that direction. Thanks to his art, “there was a blind man who could almost see for a second.”

We also meet the blind woodworker George Wurtzel, currently at work on “converting an old grape crushing barn into a Tactile Art Center” which combines a woodworking shop with a “tactile gallery space where the visually impaired can experience and sell artwork.” Discovering their shared passion for tactile art, Myers decides to make a surprise for Wurtzel, “the first portrait of himself he can actually feel,” the first new piece for his tactile art gallery. The video captures the big reveal, which converts Wurtzel from his skepticism about the screw-piece form. Still, even as he runs his fingers over his own metallicized features, he has his objections: “My nose is not that big. I’m sorry. I like the beard, though. The beard is good. The beard is really good.”

You can read more about the project at Cantor Fine Art’s web site. “The one thing I wish,” Myers adds, “is that George could see the piece the way I see it, but at the same time, I would like to look at things the way he sees the world.” You can get more a sense of art as seen, as Billy Joel once sang, by the eyes of the blind in our previous posts on the Prado’s 3D-printed exhibition for the visually impaired and the experience of the colorblind seeing art in color for the first time. It seems we’ve found ourselves at the dawn of a new golden age for art that doesn’t require sight. If a gallery boom follows, will they serve coffee roasted by the Unseen Bean?

via The Creator’s Project

Related Content:

The Prado Museum Creates the First Art Exhibition for the Visually Impaired, Using 3D Printing

What It’s Like to Be Color Blind and See Art in Color for the First Time

Jorge Luis Borges, After Going Blind, Draws a Self-Portrait

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee with Blind Master Roaster Gerry Leary

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

J.K. Rowling Defends Donald Trump’s Right to Be “Offensive and Bigoted”

The quote of the day comes from J.K. Rowling speaking at the PEN America Literary Gala & Free Expression Awards. There, she received the 2016 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award:

Intolerance of alternative viewpoints is spreading to places that make me, a moderate and a liberal, most uncomfortable. Only last year, we saw an online petition to ban Donald Trump from entry to the U.K. It garnered half a million signatures.

Just a moment.

I find almost everything that Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted. But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there. His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. His freedom guarantees mine. Unless we take that absolute position without caveats or apologies, we have set foot upon a road with only one destination. If my offended feelings can justify a travel ban on Donald Trump, I have no moral ground on which to argue that those offended by feminism or the fight for transgender rights or universal suffrage should not oppress campaigners for those causes. If you seek the removal of freedoms from an opponent simply on them grounds that they have offended you have crossed the line to stand alongside tyrants who imprison, torture and kill on exactly the same justification.

Amen. In democracies, offensive people have rights too.

You can watch a complete recording of the gala here. Also find a transcript of Rowling’s complete speech over at The Wall Street Journal.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

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1,000+ Haunting & Beautiful Photos of Native American Peoples, Shot by the Ethnographer Edward S. Curtis (Circa 1905)

curtis-4

From the figureheads of ships to cigar store statues to the caricature mascots of various sports teams…. Unfortunate or denigrating images of Native American peoples have persisted in popular culture, folk symbols of what Elisabeth W. Russell refers to in her history of the cigar store Indian as “The Vanishing American.” The phrase comes from the title of a Zane Grey novel, which then became a 1925 silent film dealing, wrote the New York Times that year, “with the passing of the American Indian.” Although both the novel and film attempt to protest the treatment of Native people by the U.S. government, both underwrite a common, troubling assumption—that Native Americans, like the Buffalo and the wild Mustang, were a threatened (and threatening) separate species, whose “vanishing” from the picaresque West (as they had “vanished” from the East) was a lamentable, but perhaps unavoidable, side effect of the march of Euro-American progress.

Curtis One

Each symbolic memorializing of Native Americans in U.S. iconography, however solemn or offensively cartoonish, gestures toward some meager recognition of a tragic loss, while erasing the circumstances that occasioned it. Of course Native Americans didn’t vanish, but were slowly killed or hounded into poverty and dispossession, and out of sight of white America—their dress, religions, and cultures made to disappear through forced assimilation, only to reappear in romanticized images of tragically conquered, but admirably warlike, primitives.

curtis4x5-8

Those images proliferated during the mid-to-late 19th century, the period of intense Western settlement and expansion and the so-called Indian Wars. “It is a given today,” writes historian Brian Dipple, “that the idea of the American Indian has been historically significant. It shaped the attitudes of those in the nineteenth century who shaped Indian policy. Indian policy—be it removal of the Eastern tribes in the 1830s, reservation isolationism beginning in the 1850s, or allotment of reservation lands and assimilation in the 1880s—cannot be understood without an awareness of the ideas behind it. Literature and the visual arts provide revealing guides to nineteenth century assumptions about the Indian.”

curtis5x7-13

Native historian Vine Deloria describes the cultural situation with more incisive wit in his “Indian Manifesto,” Custer Died for Your Sins: “The American public feels most comfortable with the mythical Indians of stereotype-land who were always THERE. These Indians are fierce, they wear feathers and grunt. Most of us don’t fit this idealized figure since we grunt only when overeating, which is seldom.” By the early 20th century, “mythical Indians” had become firmly embedded in popular culture, thanks to art and entertainment like the presumably serious attempts of Zane Grey and Frederic Remington, and J.M. Barrie’s deeply unserious Peter Pan. It is in this cultural atmosphere that photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis’ huge, 20-volume ethnographic project, The North American Indian emerged.

SIL7-058-021, 8/15/08, 3:01 PM, 8C, 5338x5873 (264+1428), 100%, Custom, 1/30 s, R39.5, G27.5, B38.9

Beginning in 1904, and with the eventual backing of J.P. Morgan, writes Mashable, Curtis “spent more than 20 years crisscrossing North America, creating over 40,000 images of more than 80 different tribes. He made thousands of wax cylinder recordings of native songs and language, and wrote down oral histories, legends and biographies.” You can view and download more than 1,000 of these photographs at the Library of Congress. Curtis thought of his work as documenting “what he saw as a vanishing way of life.” Motivated by assumptions about Native people as semi-mythic remnants from the past, the photographer “sometimes meddled with the documentary authenticity of his images. He posed his subjects in romanticized settings stripped of Western civilization, more representative of an imagined pre-Colombian existence than the subjects’ actual lives in the present.”

curtis4x5-7

The photographs are beautiful, their subjects ennobled by the dramatic lighting and stylized poses, and the breadth and scope of the entire project is nothing less than breathtaking. It set the stage for the significant work of later photographers and ethnographers like Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and the Lomaxes. Curtis has even been credited with producing the first documentary film. The images, histories, traditions, and biographies Curtis preserved constitute an invaluable historical record. That said, we should bear in mind that The North American Indian comes to us framed by Curtis’ assumptions about Native American cultures, formed by a climate in which myth vied with, and usually supplanted, fact. What do we see in these staged images, and what do we not see?

One of Curtis’ enthusiastic early backers, Theodore Roosevelt—who authored the introduction to Volume One—was, “like many of Curtis’ eventual supporters,” writes Valerie Daniels, “more interested in obtaining a record of vanishing Native American cultures as a testament to the superiority of his own civilization than out of any concern over their situation or recognition of his own role in the process.” Though Curtis did not necessarily share these views, and later became “radical in his admonition of government policies toward Native Americans,” he also had to please his financiers and his audience, most of whom would have felt the way Roosevelt did. We should bear this cultural context in mind as we take in Curtis’ work, and ask how it shaped the creation and reception of this truly impressive record of both American history and American myth. Enter the archive of images here.

Curtis 9

via Mashable

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


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