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

February 12, 2010 – May 9, 2010

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

Timothy H. O'Sullivan, Shoshone Falls, Snake River, Idaho, View Across Top of Falls, 1874, albumen print, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (1840–1882) was a photographer for two of the most ambitious geographical surveys of the nineteenth century. He traversed the mountain and desert regions of the western United States under the command of Clarence King and Lt. George M. Wheeler for six seasons between 1867 and 1874. O'Sullivan developed a forthright and rigorous style in response to the landscapes of the American West, and returned to Washington, D.C. with hundreds of photographs that revealed an artist whose reach far surpassed the demands of practical documentation. He created a body of work that was without precedent in its visual and emotional complexity, while simultaneously meeting the needs of scientific investigation and western expansion. This exhibition—a collaboration between the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Library of Congress—offers a critical reevaluation of his images and the conditions under which they were made, as well as an examination of their continued importance in the photographic canon. Of all his colleagues, O'Sullivan has maintained the strongest influence on contemporary practice, and observations about his images by six contemporary landscape photographers—Thomas Joshua Cooper, Eric Paddock, Edward Ranney, Mark Ruwedel, Martin Stupich, and Terry Toedtemeier—contribute to the exhibition and catalogue.

Framing the West is the first major exhibition devoted to this remarkable photographer in almost three decades and 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 rarely have been on public display since 1876.

Toby Jurovics, curator for photography, organized the exhibition.

A catalogue, published by Yale University Press in association with the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is for sale in the museum's store and online for $60. It includes essays by Toby Jurovics; Carol Johnson, curator of photography at the Library of Congress; Glenn Willumson, associate professor at the University of Florida; and William Stapp, independent scholar as well as a foreword by essayist Page Stegner, son of Wallace Stegner who was one of the West's best-known novelists.

Free Public Programs
Thursday, February 18, at 6 p.m., Gallery talk by Toby Jurovics
Thursday, February 25, at 7 p.m., Conversation with artist Thomas Joshua Cooper and Toby Jurovics
Wednesday, March 17, at 6 p.m., Gallery talk by Toby Jurovics
Thursday, April 22, at 6 p.m., Gallery talk by Toby Jurovics

Friday, April 9, from 2 to 7 p.m.
This symposium addresses issues of nineteenth-century Western exploration, photographic practice in the post-Civil War West, wet-plate photography in the field, and the parallel tradition of landscape painting. Speakers include Toby Jurovics and Glenn Willumson; Frank Goodyear, associate curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery; Joni Kinsey, professor of art history at the University of Iowa; J.C. Mutchler, assistant professor of history at the University of Arizona South; and Mark Osterman, process historian at the George Eastman House. The program concludes with a panel discussion featuring photographers Edward Ranney, Mark Ruwedel and Martin Stupich, moderated by Eric Paddock, curator of photography at the Denver Art Museum. The symposium is free and open to the public; no registration is required. The program is sponsored by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Library of Congress.

Selected Exhibition Reviews and Features
Washington Post, February 26, 2010, "Photo exhibit at Smithsonian reveals 19th-century artist with modern sensibility" by Michael O’Sullivan

Smithsonian, March 2010, "The Photography of Timothy H. O’Sullivan"

Washington City Paper, March 18, 2010, "Long Exposure: A New Exhibit Takes an Incomplete View of Timothy O’Sullivan" by Louis Jacobson

Read recent posts on the Museum’s blog Eye Level
February 23, 2010, How The West Was Framed: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O'Sullivan

See and discuss more of Timothy H. O’Sullivan’s photographs from the collections of the Library of Congress and Smithsonian American Art Museum on Flickr.

Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O'Sullivan is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in cooperation with the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. with support from the Robert S. and Grayce B. Kerr Foundation, the William W. Parker Fund, Paul Sack, the Bernie Stadiem Endowment Fund, Michael Wilson and the Smithsonian’s Scholarly Studies Program.