Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 16
- Grade: 11
Edward Curtis saw his job as that of creating a photographic record of “the vanishing race of the North American Indian.” His work therefore became as much a projection of colonial attitudes upon aboriginal peoples as it was an authentic record of their lives.
The Edward Curtis Project began when the Presentation House Theatre commissioned Marie Clements to write a play that would stage the issues raised by Curtis’ monumental but controversial achievement?to dramatize not only the creation of his twenty-volume photographic and ethnographic epic and the enormous commitment, unwavering vision, sacrifice, poverty and ultimate disappointment it represented for the photographer, but also the devastating legacy that his often misrepresentative and imposed vision had on the lives of the people he touched.
Upon receiving the commission, Marie Clements immediately asked photojournalist Rita Leistner to create a parallel photographic investigation of Curtis’ work?to question the practice of documentary photography with the very medium under scrutiny. After two years of retracing Curtis’ footsteps, travelling to First Nations communities throughout North America, Clements finally felt that between them: “We were making our own pictures out of our own beliefs and they were adding up. We were inside the lies and beauty of history, of gender and class, we were making a case for the future.”
This collaborative work of two artists, to take Curtis’ photographs to heart and to see who and what might live inside them today, resulted in a profoundly moving new drama by Marie Clements, and a spectacular contemporary photo exhibit by Rita Leistner. Published together here, they illustrate the trauma that the notion of a “vanishing race” has inflicted on an entire people, and celebrate the triumph of a future in which North American First Nations communities “are everywhere and it is beautiful.”
About the authors
Marie Clements is an award-winning Métis performer, playwright and director whose work has been presented on stages across Canada, the United States and Europe. She is the founder of urban ink productions, a Vancouver-based First Nations production company that creates, develops and produces Aboriginal and multi-cultural works of theatre, dance, music, film and video.
Clements was invited to the prestigious Festival de Theatre des Ameriques in 2001 for Urban Tattoo and in 2002 for Burning Vision. In 2002, she worked in the writing department of the television series Da Vinci’s Inquest. A fellowship award from the BC Film Commission enabled her to develop the film adaptation of her stage play, The Unnatural and Accidental Women. She is also a regular contributor on CBC Radio.
Clements writes, or perhaps more accurately, composes, with an urbane, incisive and sophisticated intellect; her refined artistry is deeply rooted in the particulars of her place, time and history. The world premiere of Copper Thunderbird is the first time Canada’s National Arts Centre has produced the work of a First Nations playwright on its main stage.
Awards and Recognition
Canada-Japan Literary Award (2004) Burning Vision
Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama, Finalist (2003) Burning Vision
Jessie Richardson Award for Outstanding Original Play, Nominee (2002) Burning Vision
Elinore & Lou Siminovitch Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Canadian Theatre, Nominee (2002)
Jessie Richardson Awards, P.T.C. Award for Outstanding Original Play in Development (1998) The Unnatural and Accidental Women
Sundance Screenwriting Competition, Finalist (1998) Now Look What You Made Me Do
Praxis Screenwriting Competition, Short-listed (1997) Now Look What You Made Me Do
Jessie Richardson Awards, Sydney Risk Award for Original Script by an Emerging Playwright (1993) Age of Iron
“Witnessing has its costs, its collateral damage. Artists run the risk of vicarious traumatization, but being forced to look is a far different act than forcing a look.”
The Edward Curtis Project: A Modern Picture StoryThis unique volume combines the script for a play and a photographic documentary of parallel themes. Edward Curtis was the controversial photographer who, in the early part of the 20th century, documented an exquisite but flawed record of North American First Nations peoples. The play addresses both the achievement and fundamental problems of Curtis’ work. To accompany the play a photographer followed in Curtis’ footsteps to show that the “vanishing race” Curtis photographed is alive and well in myriad ways. The play and photo-documentary also consider issues First Nations and European Canadians still struggle to make sense of.
Clements won the Jack Webster journalism award, a Jessie award and was nominated for a Governor General’s Award.
Caution: Includes some coarse language.
Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. Canadian Aboriginal Books for Schools. 2011-2012.