Saturday, 13 February 2010

Framing the West

Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O'Sullivan is an exhibition which opened yesterday at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC.
Timothy H. O'Sullivan (1840–1882) was a photographer for two of the most ambitious geographical surveys of the nineteenth century. He traversed the mountain and desert regions of the western United States under the command of Clarence King and Lt. George M. Wheeler for six seasons between 1867 and 1874. O'Sullivan developed a forthright and rigorous style in response to the landscapes of the American West, and returned to Washington, D.C. with hundreds of photographs that revealed an artist whose reach far surpassed the demands of practical documentation. He created a body of work that was without precedent in its visual and emotional complexity, while simultaneously meeting the needs of scientific investigation and western expansion.
This is O'Sullivan's biography on the Smithsonian website. He became an official civil war photographer at the age of 21. Subsequently he joined Clarence King's geological survey of the fortieth parallel—the first federal expedition in the West after the Civil War.

Interestingly King was very interested in the arts and I speculate that it well be this influence which helped O'Sullivan create photographs which were artistic as well as scientifically useful.

Ancient Ruins in the Cañon de Chelle, N.M.
(No. 11, Geographical Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian)

Timothy H. O'Sullivan(1840- 1882 )
albumen print on paper mounted on paperboardimage and sheet: 10 3/4 x 7 7/8 in. (27.3 x 20.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum

I'm very much minded to let this blog cover landscape photography as well as drawing and painting - in part to highlight what photography does well - as well as what drawing and painting do well.

1 comment:

Michelle B. Hendry said...

I love that idea - to highlight what photography does well and drawing and painting do well....

Love the choice too - O'Sullivan's work is amazing.


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