In 1867, the American West was still very much wild. It was into that new frontier that a young photographer named Timothy O’Sullivan ventured to provide a visual record of the Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, led by Clarence King.
As much a PR effort to encourage settlement of the West as it was an expedition, the survey yielded stunning landscape photos from the lens of O’Sullivan, who had been an apprentice to Mathew Brady.
Today the Library is home to more than 900 O’Sullivan photos, more than 90 of which are on display as part of a new exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy O’Sullivan.” (A companion book accompanies the exhibition.)
In order to make these remarkable images more broadly available and known, we have uploaded a set of them to our Flickr photostream. According to our curators in the Prints and Photographs Division, O’Sullivan’s task was slightly more arduous than those of today’s point-and-click shutterbugs:
Look closely, and you’ll see traces of a photographic art quite different from today’s pocket-size tools. A wagon for equipment, a large negative made of glass, a heavy wood camera, and O’Sullivan himself. The large-format prints were presented on mounts about 16 x 20 inches. The smaller stereograph pairs were mounted side by side to produce a three-dimensional effect.
If you haven’t visited our photostream lately, stop by and add your tags and comments. Our thousands of images have received, at last count, about 23 million views.
(Photo above: “Butte near Green River City, [Wyoming]” from Flickr.)