Timothy O'Sullivan and William W. Bell

American; b. New York City, c. 1840–d. Staten Island, N.Y., 1882
American; b. Liverpool, England, 1830–d. Philadelphia, 1910

Geographical and Geological Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian

1873

albumen prints and letterpress bound in album
15 1/2 x 19 5/8 inches (39.4 x 49.9 cm) (sheet)

Gift of William Wilson Corcoran

86.11a

Motivated by scientific, military, and economic interests, the U.S. government embarked on a systematic exploration of its vast and largely unknown western territories in the second half of the 19th century. This album is a rare complete set of views from Lieutenant George M. Wheeler’s 1871–1873 survey expedition of Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. The volume of 50 photographs, comprised of work by Timothy O’Sullivan and William A. Bell, was one of a limited edition issued to publicize and promote the efforts of the survey amongst government and other financial patrons.

This image by O’Sullivan, one of the few surviving photographs from his 1871 trip, records the rugged landscape of the Black Cañon along the present-day border between Nevada and Arizona. Characteristic of O’Sullivan’s unsparing vision, and unlike the work of his contemporaries such as William Henry Jackson and J.K. Hillers, this photograph depicts a place of harsh contrasts and abstracted shapes. O’Sullivan communicates his astonishment at the desolation and hostility of this unfamiliar wilderness in this expansive view of the canyon, with his own boat providing a sense of human scale in relation to the dramatic, impressive landscape.