Posts Tagged ‘American 19th century landscape photography

29
Apr
10

Exhibition: ‘Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O’Sullivan’ at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Exhibition dates: 12th February – 9th May 2010

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, 1840-1882) 'Sand Dunes, Carson Desert, Nevada' 1867

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, 1840-1882)
Sand Dunes, Carson Desert, Nevada
1867
Albumen print
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The photograph shows O’Sullivan’s photographic wagon in which he developed his glass plates.

 

 

O’Sullivan died at the age of forty two but what photographs he left us!
The human scales the sublime, literally; figures in the descriptive landscape.
The last photograph is, if you will forgive the colloquialism, a doozy.

 

“If the world is unfair or beyond our understanding, sublime places suggest it is not surprising things should be thus. We are the playthings of the forces that laid out the oceans and chiselled the mountains. Sublime places acknowledge limitations that we might otherwise encounter with anxiety or anger in the ordinary flow of events. It is not just nature that defies us. Human life is as overwhelming, but it is the vast spaces of nature that perhaps provide us with the finest, the most respectful reminder of all that exceeds us. If we spend time with them, they may help us to accept more graciously the great unfathomable events that molest our lives and will inevitably return us to dust.”

Alain de Botton. The Art of Travel. London: Penguin, 2002, p.178 – 179.

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Many thankx to Laura Baptiste and the Smithsonian American Art Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, 1840-1882) 'Lake in Conejos Cañon, Colorado' 1874

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, 1840-1882)
Lake in Conejos Cañon, Colorado
1874
Albumen print
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, 1840-1882) 'Black Cañon, Colorado River, From Camp 8, Looking Above' 1871

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, 1840-1882)
Black Cañon, Colorado River, From Camp 8, Looking Above
1871
Albumen print
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, 1840-1882) 'Buttes near Green River City, Wyoming' 1872

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, 1840-1882)
Buttes near Green River City, Wyoming
1872
Albumen print
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, 1840-1882) 'Cañon de Chelle, Walls of the Grand Canon about 1200 feet in height' 1873

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, 1840-1882)
Cañon de Chelle, Walls of the Grand Canon about 1200 feet in height
1873
Albumen print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O’Sullivan is the first major exhibition devoted to this remarkable photographer in three decades. The exhibition is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., from Feb. 12 through May 9. The museum is the only venue for the exhibition.

“Framing the West” – a collaboration between the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Library of Congress – offers a critical reevaluation of O’Sullivan’s images and the conditions under which they were made, as well as an examination of their continued importance in the photographic canon. It features more than 120 photographs and stereo cards by O’Sullivan, including a notable group of King Survey photographs from the Library of Congress that have rarely been on public display since 1876. The installation also includes images and observations by six contemporary landscape photographers that comment on the continuing influence of O’Sullivan’s photographs. Toby Jurovics, curator of photography, is the exhibition curator.

“Timothy H. O’Sullivan is widely recognised as an influential figure in the development of photography in America, so I am delighted that we have partnered with our colleagues at the Library of Congress to present this new assessment of his work and to expose a new generation to his forceful images,” said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“In the years following the Civil War, the West was fertile ground for American photographers, but Timothy H. O’Sullivan has always stood apart in his powerful and direct engagement with the landscape,” said Jurovics. “Almost a century and a half after their making, his photographs still speak with an unparalleled presence and immediacy.”

O’Sullivan was part of a group of critically acclaimed 19th-century photographers – including A.J. Russell, J.K. Hillers and William Bell – who went west in the 1860s and 1870s. O’Sullivan was a photographer for two of the most ambitious geographical surveys of the 19th century. He accompanied geologist Clarence King on the Geologic and Geographic Survey of the Fortieth Parallel and Lt. George M. Wheeler on the Geographical and Geological Surveys West of the 100th Meridian. During his seven seasons (1867-1874) traversing the mountain and desert regions of the Western United States, he created one of the most influential visual accounts of the American interior.

His assignments with the King and Wheeler surveys gave O’Sullivan the freedom to record the Western landscape with a visual and emotional complexity that was without precedent. His photographs illustrated geologic theories and provided information useful to those settling in the West, but they also were a personal record of his encounter with a landscape that was challenging and inspiring.

Of all his colleagues, O’Sullivan has maintained the strongest influence on contemporary practice. The formal directness and lack of picturesque elements in his work appealed to a later generation of photographers who, beginning in the 1970s, turned away from a romanticized view of nature to once again embrace a clear, unsentimental approach to the landscape. Observations about his images by Thomas Joshua Cooper, Eric Paddock, Edward Ranney, Mark Ruwedel, Martin Stupich and Terry Toedtemeier appear in the exhibition and the catalog.

O’Sullivan (1840-1882) was born in Ireland. He emigrated to the United States with his family at the age of two, eventually settling in Staten Island, N.Y. Biographical details about O’Sullivan are spare, yet he is thought to have had his earliest photographic training in the New York studio of portrait photographer Mathew Brady. He is believed to have accompanied Alexander Gardner to Washington, D.C., to assist in opening a branch of the Brady studio in 1858, and when Gardner opened his own studio in Washington in 1863, O’Sullivan followed. O’Sullivan first gained recognition for images made during the Civil War, particularly those from the Battle of Gettysburg, and 41 of his images were published in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War. O’Sullivan’s experience photographing in the field helped earn him the position as photographer for King’s survey. After his survey work, he held brief assignments in Washington with the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Treasury. O’Sullivan died of tuberculosis on Staten Island at the age of 42.”

Press release from the Smithsonian American Art Museum website [Online] Cited 25/04/2010 no longer available online

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, 1840-1882) 'Green River Cañon, Colorado' 1872

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, 1840-1882)
Green River Cañon, Colorado
1872
Albumen print
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, 1840-1882) 'Horse Shoe Cañon, Green River, Wyoming' 1872

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, 1840-1882)
Horse Shoe Cañon, Green River, Wyoming
1872
Albumen print
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, 1840-1882) 'Summit of Wahsatch Range, Utah (Lone Peak)' 1869

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, 1840-1882)
Summit of Wahsatch Range, Utah (Lone Peak)
1869
Albumen print
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, 1840-1882) 'Shoshone Falls, Snake River, Idaho, View Across Top of Falls' 1874

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, 1840-1882)
Shoshone Falls, Snake River, Idaho, View Across Top of Falls
1874
Albumen print
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, 1840-1882) 'The Pyramid & Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada' 1867

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, 1840-1882)
The Pyramid & Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada
1867
Albumen print
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

 

 

Smithsonian American Art Museum
8th and F Streets, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004

Opening hours:
11.30 am – 7.00 pm daily

Smithsonian American Art Museum website

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03
Jan
09

Exhibition: ‘Dialogue among Giants: Carleton Watkins and the Rise of Photography in California’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 14th October 2008 – 1st March 2009

 

Carleton Watkins (American, 1829-1916) (attributed) 'Placer Mining Scene' c. 1852-55

 

Carleton Watkins (American, 1829-1916) (attributed)
Placer Mining Scene
c. 1852-55
Half-plate daguerreotype
4 x 5 in. (10.2 x 12.7 cm)

 

 

Carleton Watkins was a master photographer, craftsman, technician and, above all, a refined artist. The structural cadences of his compositions, like the best music, are superb. Within his photographs he creates a visual dialogue that sustains pertinent inquiry by the viewer  – the look! see! – that has lasted centuries, as all great art does. Today his photographs are as clearly seen, as incisive of mind, as when they were first produced. They delight.

From the documentary photographs of mining settlements to the images of Yosemite; from the stereographs of cities to the gardens of the rich and famous; from the photographs of untouched interior America to the images of the Monterey Peninsula Watkins photographs are sharply observed renditions of a reality placed before the lens of his giant plate camera.

Like all great artists his eye is unique. His use angle, height and placement of the camera is reinforced by his understanding of the balance of light and shade, the construction of planes within the image and the spatial relationships that could be achieved within the frame (at the same time we note that the artist Cezanne was also investigating the deconstruction of traditional landscape perspectives within the image frame). His work reminds me of the photographs of the great French photographer Eugene Atget: both men understood how best to place the camera to achieve the outcome they wanted so that the photographs became imprinted with their signature, images that nobody else could have taken. Today we recognise both men as masters of photography for this very fact. The images they took raise them above the rank and file photographer because of the care and understanding they took in the decisions they made in the exposure of the negative.

As a precursor to modernism in photography Watkins does not have peer at this time. His photographs preempt the 20th century modernist work of Paul Strand and Alfred Stieglitz, his Monterey and Yosemite photographs the work of Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, and in his Japanese influences the work of Minor White. Even today at the exhibition by Andreas Gursky at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne there is a colour work of a body of water (see below: Rhein 1996) that closely reflects the structure of Watkins View on the Calloway Canal, near Poso Creek, Kern County 1887, even though the subject matter of Gursky’s image is a simulacra of an implied reality, whereas Watkins work “served as evidence in a water rights lawsuit that eventually resulted in a decisive court ruling that prevented newcomers from diverting water from existing landowners.”1

Watkins cadence as a sentient being will endure in the choices he made in the photographs he exposed. His tempo, his innate ability to place the camera, his understanding of the light and shade, texture, environment, depth of field and feeling make this artist one that all aspiring artists – no, all human beings – should study.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Carleton Watkins. 'Yosemite Valley from the Best General View No.2.' 1866

 

Carleton Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Yosemite Valley from the Best General View No.2
1866
Albumen silver print
41 x 52.2 cm (16 1/8 x 20 9/16 in.)

 

 

Carleton Watkins had the ability to photograph a subject from the viewpoint that allowed the most information to be revealed about its contents. In this image, he captured what he considered the best features of Yosemite Valley: Bridalveil Falls, Cathedral Rock, Half Dome, and El Capitan. By positioning the camera so that the base of the slender tree appears to grow from the bottom edge of the picture, Watkins composed the photograph so that the canyon rim and the open space beyond it seem to intersect. Although he sacrificed the top of the tree, he was able to place the miniaturised Yosemite Falls at the visual centre of the picture. To alleviate the monotony of an empty sky, he added the clouds from a second negative. This image was taken while Watkins was working for the California Geological Survey. His two thousand pounds of equipment for the expedition, which included enough glass for over a hundred negatives, required a train of six mules. (Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website)

 

Carleton Watkins. "The Dalles, Extremes of High & Low Water, 92 ft" 1883

 

Carleton Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
The Dalles, Extremes of High & Low Water, 92 ft
1883

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Saint Cloud' 1904

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Saint Cloud
1904

 

Carleton Watkins. "Cypress Tree at Point Lobos, Monterey County" 1883 - 1885

 

Carleton Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Cypress Tree at Point Lobos, Monterey County
1883 – 1885

 

 

In 1850, at the age of 20, Carleton Watkins is believed to have arrived in California from New York via South America. He embarked on a life in photography that began auspiciously during the gold rush (which started in 1849) and ended abruptly with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire that destroyed his negatives. In between those historic moments, Watkins witnessed an era in which a recurring theme was the enormity of all things in the West. He photographed the expansive western landscape with its miles of coastline, vast natural resources, colossal trees, and the monoliths of the Yosemite Valley using an oversize mammoth-plate camera.

In the 1860s Watkins’s Yosemite photographs brought him fame from as far away as Paris, but a decade later he experienced a painful financial reversal. In the end, he died a pauper in 1916 after a life that brought him into dialogue with the many “giants” of his era. The photographs he left behind provide a unique personal vision of the birth and growth of California.

 

Mining Scenes and Daguerreotypes

After arriving in Sacramento in 1850, Watkins worked delivering supplies to the mines during the gold rush. As he traveled throughout the region, he applied his new photography skills by making daguerreotypes (an early photographic technique using silver-coated, polished copper plates). In 1852, he is believed to have taken up photography full time, making daguerreotypes as a freelance “outdoor man” for established studios in Sacramento, Marysville, and San Francisco.

Among the most important photographs created in California before about 1855 are more than 100 daguerreotypes of buildings and landscapes, the majority of which have not been attributed. Many represent the San Francisco Bay Area and the mother lode regions northeast of Sacramento, where Watkins lived from 1850 to 1853 – a fact that geographically positions him in the right place at the right time to have been their maker. This exhibition compares select daguerreotypes by unknown makers with securely identified photographs by Watkins. On the basis of style and other circumstantial evidence, it is possible that Watkins may have made many of the daguerreotypes.

 

Yosemite

Watkins first visited Yosemite Valley in the late 1850s and then returned to Yosemite several times in the 1860s and 70s with a new mammoth-plate camera designed to expose collodion-on-glass negatives that were 18-by-22 inches in size. With this equipment, he created the pictures that soon brought him international fame.

Watkins was not the only photographer who made images of Yosemite. Charles L. Weed and Eadweard Muybridge both followed Watkins into Yosemite, and the photographers often re-created one another’s views. This exhibition explores the visual dialogue in Yosemite between Watkins, Weed, Muybridge, and the unidentified camera operator for Thomas Houseworth and Company, who may have actually been Watkins.

 

Pacific Coast

Watkins was best known for his photographs of Yosemite, but he also took his camera to the silver mines of Nevada and Arizona, and up and down the Pacific coast. Throughout his career he applied his understanding of the elements of landscape as art. His early work with mining subjects proved to be excellent training for his eventual vision of landscape as a powerful counterbalance to the fragility of human existence. He harnessed the elements of visual form – line, shape, mass, outline, perspective, viewpoint, and light – to enliven often static motifs in nature.

Watkins photographed the Monterey Peninsula in the 1880s, recording the scenery in a continuously unfolding progression along Seventeen-Mile Drive, which began and ended at the Hotel Del Monte. Near the hotel, Watkins created this image of a native cypress – windblown and with its roots exposed – clinging to the side of a rocky cliff. Many distinguished photographers, among them Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, followed Watkins over the years along this same stretch of coast, photographing similar subjects.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Carleton Watkins. 'View on the Calloway Canal, near Poso Creek, Kern County' 1887

 

Carleton Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
View on the Calloway Canal, near Poso Creek, Kern County
1887
Albumen silver print
37.5 x 53 cm (14 3/4 x 20 7/8 in.)

 

 

Andreas Gursky (German, b. 1955)
Rhein II
1996

 

  1. For more information please see the J. Paul Getty web page about this image.

 

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5.30pm
Saturday 10am – 9pm
Sunday 10am – 9pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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