EasyDNNNews

EasyDNNNews

Banners

EasyDNNNews

Select the search type
  • Site
  • Web
Search

The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Photographer Created an Original View of the West

Photographer Created an Original View of the West

Author: Reilly Capps/Wednesday, April 24, 2013/Categories: photography, Archive Pick of the Week

By Reilly Capps


Photographers take a lot of things from events and landscapes -- images -- but they can, if they’re good, sometimes give something to those landscapes; meaning.

One of the best examples of this is one of the best photographer of the Civil War, Timothy O'Sullivan.

He spent four horrible years documenting the man-made plague that sowed death across the country in ways that haunt us still today:

[“The Harvest of Death,” Gettysburg, by Timothy O’Sullivan]

Though he probably didn't fight, it's hard to think of this assignment as very much better. 

[Gettysburg, Pa. Bodies of Federal soldiers, killed on July 1, near the McPherson woods]
[Gettysburg]

No person can -- or should -- spend that much time as a spectator and documentarian of death. After the war, O’Sullivan accepted a position as an official photographer for a U.S. Geological Expedition to the West. His job was to photograph the West in such a way as to make it enticing to Easterners.

It seems like he succeeded: 
 

[Black Canyon of the Colorado River, in Arizona]

O'Sullivan shows us the West as we've never seen it. You can imagine the pleasure O’Sullivan felt upon escaping the damp hell of the East Coast to the clean bright sunny world of the West, which must have seemed so new and puddle-wonderful. O’Sullivan’s relief and optimism practically shine through in his photographs.


[Canyon de Chelle, Arizona]


In a way, every photograph is a lie of omission, since the photographer is always deciding what to leave out, what to place just beyond the frame. The American West can be a harsh, unforgiving place, where crops don’t grow and sparse grass won’t support many herds of cattle, but O’Sullivan rarely photographs that side of things. He photographs and half-creates a rejuvenating place that must have made a tired nation feel young again.


[Pagosa Springs, Colorado]


This picture, and others like it, though probably posed and carefully framed, is only a lie to a certain extent. He is engaged in is creating meaning, creating a story, a story of monumental possibility and limitless freedom. It’s a story that would draw thousands of young men (and a few women) to the American West. They, too, were often looking for an identity, and many left behind their names and occupations, becoming almost literally a new person.


It wasn’t an easy life, as O’Sulluvan’s photos occasionally show:


[A miner working the Comstock Lode, Nevada]


But how many Americans -- and how many American stories -- would not have been possible without the creation of this mythic west? Would Mark Twain have become Mark Twain if he had stayed Sam Clemens of Missouri, and not ventured out to the mining towns of Nevada? Would Leland Stanford have amounted to anything if he had stayed in New York, and not headed west to California, where a university bears his name?


Without this colossal backdrop, fewer epic stories are possible.

[Inscription Rock, New Mexico]


Of course, those mountains were always there, and would have been there whether O'Sullivan photographed them or not. But they wouldn't have been able to draw settlers and miners and pioneers and dreamers. Mountains are just piles of rocks, invested with no meaning except the meaning we invest in them.


The great poet Sam Walter Foss exclaimed, “Bring me men to match my mountains,” but he had it almost exactly backward. The men (and sometimes women) who came west, as O’Sullivan shows, were already great men. What they needed was a place where they could reinvent themselves. O'Sullivan helped create a destination almost as alluring as Xanadu.


In these photographs, O’Sullivan and others of his era made the West mean something. They turned it into a grand stage on which epic lives played out. They gave the landscape meaning, created a myth, and made possible grand second acts in the lives of despairing Americans, all through the simple act of opening a shutter.


Print

Number of views (4513)/Comments (0)

Please login or register to post comments.

Name:
Email:
Subject:
Message:
x

21st Century Space Travel Is Here Tuesday, February 6, 20180

21st Century Space Travel Is Here

Elon Musk drives to Mars!

Meet the Jerboa Monday, February 5, 20180

Meet the Jerboa

A critter looking like a tiny, hopping dinosaur.

A Life in Translation Sunday, February 4, 20180

A Life in Translation

Can high technology recover ancient wisdom?

George the Poet Takes on Climate Change Friday, February 2, 20180

George the Poet Takes on Climate Change

Rapping on climate change.

Curiosity Panorama Thursday, February 1, 20180

Curiosity Panorama

The Curiosity Rover keeps returning stunning Martian images.

Empathy and the Environment Wednesday, January 31, 20180

Empathy and the Environment

Empathy and the environment are intertwined.

Remember The Wild Tuesday, January 30, 20180

Remember The Wild

Remembering nature one project at a time.

The Hunt Monday, January 29, 20180

The Hunt

Dual hunters, one above & one below! 

The World's Oldest Living Things Sunday, January 28, 20180

The World's Oldest Living Things

The list of ancient life is now longer.

EasyDNNNews

Art Influencing Science Saturday, January 27, 20180

Art Influencing Science

Animation can influence scientists.

Hey, science teachers...make it fun! Friday, January 26, 20180

Hey, science teachers...make it fun!

Science should be fun.

Surging Glaciers, Climate Change, and Tibet Thursday, January 25, 20180

Surging Glaciers, Climate Change, and Tibet

Tibet's surging glaciers now explained.

New Bamboo Tuesday, January 23, 20180

New Bamboo

Sustainable bamboo building materials.

Earth's Geocorona Monday, January 22, 20180

Earth's Geocorona

Earth's luminous hydrogen halo.

Monitoring Glacial Lakes Sunday, January 21, 20180

Monitoring Glacial Lakes

Studying glacial lakes as mountain climates change.

Hot, Hotter, Hottest Year.....again! Friday, January 19, 20180

Hot, Hotter, Hottest Year.....again!

2017 temperature anomalies and related events.

Dolphins in VR Thursday, January 18, 20180

Dolphins in VR

Protecting dolphins in their marine habitats.

Amazing Landscapes Wednesday, January 17, 20180

Amazing Landscapes

A video producing a sense of wonder and amazement.