A companion exhibition to Edward Curtis: The Grand Idea, this exhibit highlights three Pacific Northwest
regional photographers who were contemporaries of Edward Curtis. Playing off of the theme of
“the vanishing race” in contrast to tribal life in the modern world, we explore their work and consider the
assumptions made about Native American communities and the lives of individuals often depicted.
An icon of early commercial photography in the Pacific Northwest, Asahel Curtis was a Seattle-based photographer and brother to Edward S. Curtis. He frequently contracted with companies who wanted to use his photography for tourism and regional promotion. Curtis often traveled for work including famously documenting the Klondike Gold Rush. He was contracted by the Northern Pacific Railroad to document Spokane’s 1925 Indian Congress, and worked with Frank Guilbert and the Inland Empire Automobile Association (later AAA) to create lantern shows that promoted tourism in the region. Upon his death in 1941, Curtis left behind a large body of his work from a 53-year career in photography including two albums of photographs held at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. Nearly sixty thousand of his images are held in trust by the Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma, Washington.
Frank Guilbert was the first president of the Inland Empire Automobile Association in Spokane, Washington. His amateur photography primarily consisted of "road" photography, capturing scenes of his travels from Glacier National Park to the Washington Cascades, and everything in between. Guilbert’s photographs were used to promote tourism and road culture in the Inland Northwest. Many of his photographs were colorized by his good friend Asahel Curtis and turned into glass lantern slides that would be used to publicize the region. Most notably, Guilbert documented the Indian Congresses of 1925 and 1926, photographing events, taking portraits, and keeping a roster of those who participated in the Congresses.
Little remains of Frank Palmer’s life beyond his photography. According to the short obituary following his death in 1920, Palmer came to the Pacific Northwest by way of Kentucky. His wife, Frances, was a German immigrant who assisted Palmer in many of his photographic endeavors. Prior to settling in Spokane, Palmer worked as a photographer in Rathdrum, ID, and Colville, WA. Advertising himself as a “scenic photographer,” Palmer’s photography was used by transportation companies and local chambers of commerce to promote tourism. Today, the museum holds nearly 1,500 photographs taken by Frank Palmer, including several unique hand-colored prints. Palmer’s photographs of frontiersman and Native Americans are captured alongside emerging regional industries, showing the scenic beauty and economic prosperity the Inland Northwest had to offer.