John and Coleen Graybill live in Buena Vista, Colorado, located high in the Rocky Mountains surrounded by 14,000’ peaks. The town certainly lives up to it’s Spanish definition of “beautiful vista”. They married there and started a joint landscape photography business in 2017, but it wasn’t fulfilling…
John is the great-grandson of Edward Curtis, and the only one in the family with the photography gene. John grew up in a home filled with Curtis photogravures hanging on the walls; to him it was just an everyday event. It never crossed his mind to do anything more with his Curtis roots, until Coleen volunteered him to speak to their professional photography group. While doing the research for his presentation, he fell in love with his great-grandfather that he never got to meet and his legendary work.
Afterward that, many ideas started formulating — ideas of how to spread the Curtis word across the country. After all, this is all that Curtis wanted from his work… to bring the images and history of the indigenous peoples of North America to the homes throughout America. John wanted to find a way to share Curtis’ accomplishments, his love of the indigenous peoples, his acceptance of all people without bias and prejudices. Whether a person is rich or poor, male or female, white/red/brown, it didn’t matter to Curtis. I saw the soul of a person, not their exterior. John feels that Curtis’ acceptance of all people should be a model we can all learn from and embrace in today’s world. So, the idea was born.
John and Coleen have begun the journey they are calling the Descendants Project. John, as a direct Descendant of Edward Curtis, will search for the Descendants of Edward Curtis’ epic photographs. They will interview and photograph those Descendants that wish to participate, providing a vehicle for Natives to say in their voice, what it means to them to be Native American in the 21st century.
Walking in Curtis’ footsteps even more, they are photographing them much the same way Curtis did, with a large format camera and processing the 6.5×8.5” glass dry plate negatives themselves. They have even come up with a portable portrait tent; enabling them to also get those same classic Rembrandt lit portraits. They insist that their new Descendants images have the same look and feel as Curtis’ did.
John and Coleen have photographed several Descendants so far, with many more coming soon. You can follow their travels most closely by signing up for the newsletter on the home page. They will send periodic reminders of new posts with our latest travels.
John got his photography degree at the Rhode Island School of Photography in 1979. Following a quick panic after graduation as a starving artist, John ended up with a 29 year career managing Midas stores and then 7 years as an Apple Genius. John retired from the corporate world. He now enjoys photographing along side his wife, a 30 year veteran as a professional portrait and fine art photographer.
Coleen is a Master Photographer and Certified Professional Photographer through the Professional Photographers of America and has won international awards for both her portrait and landscape work. She was a portrait/wedding photographer for over 26 years, and then started concentrating on scenic/fine art images after she and John married. She too, is excited to apply her talents to their Descendants Project and bring attention to the amazing stories of Native Americans. The Curtis bug has bitten her hard!
John and Coleen still manage to find themselves outside enjoying their beautiful hometown when they’re not on the road. John loves to bike in the warmer weather, cook and makes a mean margarita. Coleen enjoys doing encaustic painting, is an avid hiker and backpacker and loves to spend time on the Colorado Trail that practically runs through their backyard.