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Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O'Sullivan


Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O'Sullivan Cover

ISBN13: 9780300158915
ISBN10: 0300158912
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Synopses & Reviews

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The image of the untamed American West persists as one of our countrys most enduring cultural myths, and few photographers have captured more compelling images of the frontier than Timothy H. OSullivan. Trained under Mathew Brady, OSullivan accompanied several government expeditions to the West—most notably with geologist Clarence King in 1867 and cartographer George M. Wheeler in 1871. Along these journeys, OSullivan produced many beautiful photographs that exhibit a forthright and rigorous style formed in response to the landscapes he encountered. Faced with challenging terrain and lacking previous photographic examples on which to rely, OSullivan created a body of work that was without precedent in its visual and emotional complexities.

The first major publication on OSullivan in more than thirty years, Framing the West offers a new aesthetic and formal interpretation of OSullivans photographs and assesses his influence on the larger photographic canon. The book features previously unpublished and rarely seen images and serves as a field guide for OSullivans original prints, presenting them for the first time in sequence with the chronology of their production.

About the Author

Toby Jurovics is curator of photography at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. Carol M. Johnson is curator of photography at the Library of Congress. Glenn Willumson is director of the graduate program in museum studies and associate professor of art history at the University of Florida. William F. Stapp is an independent scholar of photography. Page Stegner is a novelist, essayist, and teacher.

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Dan Sherman, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by Dan Sherman)
For anyone interested in the Survey photography of Timothy H. O'Sullivan - this is a clearly written, well-researched book. The first in-depth publication on O'Sullivan in nearly 30 years; an excellent complimentary companion to earlier publications like James Horan's (1966) "Timothy O'Sullivan: America's Forgotten Photographer ", Joel Snyder (1981) "American Frontiers - the Photographs of Timothy H. O'Sullivan, 1867 - 1874" and Rick Dingus (1982) " The Photographic Artifacts of Timothy O'Sullivan". For those looking specifically for material on O'Sullivan's Survey stereoviews - there is no better source.

The book contains three essays 1) Framing the West: The Survey photographs of Timothy H. O'Sullivan - by Toby Juroviscs; 2) Through Magic Lenses: Timothy H. O'Sullivan's Stereographs from the King and Wheeler Surveys - by Carol M. Johnson and "Photographing under Difficulties": Andrew Russell's Photographs for the King Survey - by Glenn Willumson. Also included is an excellent, very through, well documented chronology of O'Sullivan by William F. Stapp. It also contains a section of 98 of O'Sullivan's full plate photographs from both the King and Wheeler surveys. Many other illustrations and reproductions of O'Sullivan's work are portrayed throughout the book. Carol Johnson has reproduced 13 of his stereoviews, most reproduced full size, from both the King and Wheeler surveys

Juroviscs' essay is a well-researched scholarly portrayal of O'Sullivan. He touches on O'Sullivan's early Civil War work, discusses various aspects of King's "Survey of the Fortieth Parallel" and the survey's relation to some of its predecessors - by Fremont, Bonneville and others. For those not familiar with the wet-plate photo process used by O'Sullivan, he presents a brief outline. His main focus, however, is on O'Sullivan's photography and how he uses his camera; how O'Sullivan's specific placement of the camera to include or exclude certain features or to alter the line of the horizon manipulates the message being presented by the photograph. He describes how O'Sullivan excelled in photographing emptiness - the open vastness of The Great Basin. Also, how his methods and style differed from some of his contemporaries - W. H. Jackson, C. E. Watkins, A. J. Russell, etc.

My first reaction to Glenn Willumson's essay on the photographs taken on the King survey by A. J. Russell - was why inset Russell into a book subtitled "The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O'Sullivan"? After reading it I believe it is an essential element of this book. Russell, the official photographer for the Union Pacific Railroad joined the King Survey in late July 1869 and was with the survey for about three weeks. Many of the photographs that are part of the King survey in the Unita Mountains of Utah, that for many years were attributed to O'Sullivan, research now indicates were in fact produced by A. J. Russell.

As a connoisseur and collector of post Civil War Survey stereoviews, the primary focus of my review here is the book's second essay "Through Magic Lenses: Timothy H. O'Sullivan's Stereographs from the King and Wheeler Surveys". While a few excellent assessments of O'Sullivan's photographic work on the Western Surveys have been produced, no one until now has focused directly on his stereographs. Carol M. Johnson, curator of 19th century American photography at the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, has written a long over-due account of Timothy O'Sullivan's stereographs of the King and Wheeler surveys. She presents a broad overview of them, from their creation in the field to a history of their publication and their final disposition.

She writes, "Scholars often dismiss stereographs as gimmicky..."in doing so they ignore the important role they played in American culture throughout the last half of the 19th and early part of the 20th century. Here she makes a resolute effort to rectify that situation by producing a well-researched scholarly study of the stereographs of Timothy O'Sullivan.

For the reader not familiar with the stereograph she has a brief introduction explaining them as well as a few words about their history and an illustration showing a stereoscope in use.

She presents a brief sketch of camp life and general living conditions while working in the field on these government surveys. Like Jurovics she touches on O'Sullivan's early career, then on to his survey work but unlike Jurovics, she places her main emphasis on his stereographs. She discusses the different manner in which O'Sullivan approached his subject depending on whether he was working with a full plate view camera or a stereo camera. She also discusses how O'Sullivan's work with the King Survey differed from that of the Wheeler Expedition. Clarence King, a geologist, led a more scientifically oriented survey and was primarily interested in the study and mapping of the region's geology. Wheeler, an army lieutenant and engineer, had a much more military and political train of thought than King. Therefore, the type, and ultimately the use, of the photographs differed between the two surveys. She writes "Unlike the stereographs O'Sullivan made for the King survey, his Wheeler survey stereographs provide a visual narrative of the expedition rather than documenting specific landscape features encountered along the team's route. His picturesque views of Black Canyon present an almost day-by-day account of their journey."

From the onset and throughout the survey years Clarence King did not aggressively pursue publishing or exhibiting survey photography. His primary use of it was to illustrate his official reports. King did have O'Sullivan prepare survey images for the 1873 Vienna Expo and the 1876 Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia but, overall King survey photos never saw the production that Wheeler's did. She writes "there is no evidence to suggest that the King survey stereographs were ever offered for sale to the public." She also states "Although the King survey stereos are exceedingly rare today - and were never produced in great numbers - stereographs from the Wheeler expedition were published in multiple editions in the 1870s and survive in many archives and private collections. George Wheeler himself persistently urged the government to distribute photographs made during his expedition." Despite the extreme rarity of the King stereographs she has managed to locate and catalog well over 100 of them in Appendix 1. She has also reproduced a few images of them in her essay and appendix 1.

The book contains a set of seven appendixes which catalog all known stereographs of the King and Wheeler surveys. Appendix 1 catalogs all known stereographs mounted on official "Explorations of the 40th Parallel" mounts; they are numbered from 1 through 233 with several gaps. Appendix 2 through 7 catalogs six different series issued by Wheeler.

Just a note of interest, the King survey stereograph series is not chronologically arranged in the manner of the multiple series issued by Wheeler. King conducted surveys in 1867, `68, `69 and `72; the series contains stereographs from all four years. The first numbers in the King series are from the 1872 survey, and the series ends with stereographs taken by A.J. Russell in the Unita Mountains in 1869. Also, for those not completely familiar with the chronology and schedule of these surveys, Timothy O'Sullivan was the official photographer for King during all four years (1867,'68,'69 & `72). Wheeler employed a photographer on four of his surveys (1871,'72,'73 & '74); O'Sullivan was with Wheeler in 1871, 1873 and 1874. William Bell replaced O'Sullivan on Wheeler's 1872 expedition. Appendixes 2 through 7 catalog all of the Wheeler stereographs. Although none of the book's essays detail information on Bell, to make the Wheeler series complete, all stereographs by Bell during the 1872 season are cataloged in the appendixes.
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Product Details

Jurovics, Toby
Yale University Press
Johnson, Carol
Johnson, Carol M.
Stegner, Page
Stapp, William F.
Willumson, Glenn
West (u.s.)
Landscape photography -- West (U.S.)
Subjects & Themes - Landscapes
Individual Photographers - General
Collections, Catalogs, Exhibitions - General
Subjects & Themes - Travel - U.S./West
Individual Photographer
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
150 color illus.
11 x 9.5 in 3.85 lb

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