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Guide to the Timothy H. O'Sullivan Photographs, 1868-1873

Abstract

Timothy H. O'Sullivan was an important early American photographer who participated in two geographical surveys of the American West.

Collection includes thirty-five gold-toned albumen prints made from glass plate negatives. O'Sullivan made these photographs as part of the King and Wheeler surveys between 1868 and 1873. Main subjects of the photographs are geological and geographical features of Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. Collection also contains four photographs of mining operations and two photographs of the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico.

Descriptive Summary

Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
Creator
O'Sullivan, Timothy H., 1840-1882
Title
Timothy H. O'Sullivan photographs 1868-1873
Language of Material
English
Extent
1.6 Linear Feet, 35 Items
Location
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

Collection Overview

During his brief career, Timothy H. O'Sullivan made many compelling photographs, and in doing so established himself as one of the most important figures in early American photography. This collection includes thirty-five gold-toned albumen prints, resulting from glass plate negatives O'Sullivan made as he photographed the American west for the King and Wheeler surveys between 1868 and 1873. The geological and geographical features of Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming are the subjects most heavily represented in this collection. The collection also contains four photographs of mining operations and two photographs of the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico. The collection is arranged into two series: the King Expeditions Series and the Wheeler Expeditions Series. Both series are arranged chronologically.

Clarence King's Expedition officially bore the title: "The Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel." King planned to explore a hundred-mile wide swath from the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains across the Great Basin to the Rocky Mountains, eastern Colorado to the California line. This collection includes nine photographs from King's expeditions in 1868 (1), 1869 (6), and 1872 (2).

In 1871, George Montague Wheeler, topographical engineer, took charge of "The Survey of the Territory of the United States West of the 100th Meridian." The field work conducted for this survey involved fourteen trips during 1871-1879. The primary object of the survey was to complete topographical mapping of the country, much of it largely unexplored, but the scope of the work eventually extended to include exhaustive investigation of geological, zoological, and ethnological matters. Publication of the definitive Report upon United States Geographical Surveys West of the One-Hundredth Meridian took place between 1875 and 1889. O'Sullivan made photographs on several of these expeditions. This series includes 26 photographs, from the expeditions of 1871 (18) 1873 (8).

More so than other western expeditionary photographers, Timothy O'Sullivan explored alternative strategies of photographic composition. O'Sullivan created unique compositions through the conscious ordering and visual presentation of bold forms, which emphasized the abstract qualities of the landscape. Several photographs in this collection reveal the formal qualities of O'Sullivan's photographs. These images contrast with the great volume of more picturesque landscapes made by other western expeditionary photographers, although O'Sullivan did make a number of photographs that emphasized natural beauty over form. O'Sullivan was also interested in recording evidence of human interaction with the environment. For example THO.P17 juxtaposes the passing of geological time with evidence of recent human explorations. A photograph also contained in this collection, and of intrinsic interest, THO.P15, reveals visible brush strokes providing evidence of the technique used to coat glass plate negatives.

Administrative Information

A majority of collections are stored off site and must be requested at least 48 business hours in advance for retrieval. Contact Rubenstein Library staff before visiting. Read More »

warning Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

warning Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Contents of the Collection

1868 "120" (lower right corner) Lake Marian, Summits of East Humboldt Mountains, Nevada
8 x 11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Box THO.1 Print THO.P1
1869 "16" (lower left corner) Echo Canyon, Utah. Tertiary Bluffs.
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P2 National Archives Number: 77-KN-16
1869 "18" (lower right corner) Tertiary Conglomerates, Weber Valley, Utah.
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P3 National Archives Number: 77-KN-16
1869 Tertiary Conglomerates, Weber Valley, Utah.
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P4 National Archives Number: 77-KN-16
1869 Cottonwood Lake, Wasatch Range, Utah.
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P5 National Archives Number: 77-KN-16
The Falls of the Provo in Utah. Probably 1869.
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P6 National Archives Number: 77-KN-16
Mount Agassiz in Utah. Probably 1869.
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P7 National Archives Number: 77-KN-16
1872 Cañon of Lodore, Green River, Wyoming.
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P8 National Archives Number: 77-KN-16
1872 "50" (lower right corner) Horseshoe Canyon, Green River, Wyoming.
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P9 National Archives Number: 77-KN-16
1871 "No. 1. Snow Peaks, Bull Run Mining District, Nevada"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Box THO.1 Print THO.P10
1871 "No. 4. Black Cañon, Colorado River, Looking Below From Big Horn Camp"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P11
1871 "No. 6. Black Cañon, Colorado River, Looking Below, Near Camp 7"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Box THO.2 Print THO.P12
1871 "No. 7. Black Cañon, Colorado River, Looking Below, Near Camp 7"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P13
1871 "No. 10. Entrance to Black Cañon, Colorado River"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P14
1871 "No. 12. Cereus Giganteus, Arizona"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P15
1871 "No. 13. Water Rhyolites, Near Logan Springs, Nevada"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P16
1871 "No. 14. Rock Carved by Drifiting Sand, Below Fortification Rock, Arizona"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P17
1871 "No. 15. Iceberg Cañon, Colorado River, Looking Above"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P18
1871 "No.16. Alpine Lake in the Sierra Nevada, California"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P19
1871 "No. 94. Music Mt. From Truxton Springs, A. T., Arizona Series"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P20
1871 No. 7. Fifteen Stamp Mill, Mineral Hill, Nevada
8 x 10.5 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board.
Print THO.P21 National Archives number: 106-WB-29
1871 No.13. Canfield's Mill, Belmont, Nevada
8 x 10.5 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board.
Print THO.P22 National Archives Number: 106-WB-13
1871 No. 28. Quartz Formation near Silver Cañon, Pahranaget, Lake District, Nevada
8 x 10.5 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board.
Print THO.P23 National Archives number 106-WB-27
1871 No. 47. Meadow Valley Mining Co.'s Works, Dry Valley, Nevada
8 x 10.5 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board.
Box THO.3 Print THO.P24 National Archives number 106-WB-47
1871 Combination Mill, Belmont, Nevada.
8 x 10.5 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board.
Print THO.P25 National Archives number 106-WB-12
1871 Death Valley, California. In Timothy O'Sullivan, America's Forgotten Photographer, p. 242
8 x 10.5 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board.
Print THO.P26 National Archives number 106-WB-12
1871 No. 65. Quartz Formation near Silver Cañon Pahranaget, Lake District Nevada. Or Part of Hyko Mining District Nevada. Left side overlaps with right side of No. 28
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P27 National Archives number 106-WB-65
1873 "No. 1. Apache Lake, Sierra Blanca Range, Arizona"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P28 National Archives number 106-WB-65
1873 "No. 2. View on Apache Lake, Sierra Blanca Range, Arizona"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P29 National Archives number 106-WB-65
1873 "No. 4. North Fork Cañon, Sierra Blanca Creek, Arizona"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P30 National Archives number 106-WB-65
1873 "No. 8. Historic Spanish Record of the Conquest, South Side of Inscription Rock, N.M."
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P31 National Archives number 106-WB-65
1873 "No. 12. Looking Across the Colorado River to Mouth of Paria Creek"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P32 National Archives number 106-WB-65
1873 "No. 16. Head of Cañon de Chelle, Looking Down, Walls about 1200 feet in height" [Arizona]
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P33 National Archives number 106-WB-65
1873 "No. 17. Indian Pueblo, Zuni, N.M. View from the South"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P34 National Archives number 106-WB-65
1873 "No. 18. Old Mission Church, Zuni Pueblo, N.M. View from the Plaza"
8 x 10.75-11 inch print mounted on a 16 x 20 inch board
Print THO.P35 National Archives number 106-WB-65

Historical Note

Chronology List

DateEvent(s)
1840Born in Ireland
circa 1856-1861Apprenticed under Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner
1861-1865Photographed the Civil War, sometimes for Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner
1867-1869, 1872Photographed for the King Expedition
1870Became photographer for the Darien Survey, which explored possible routes for the Panama Canal
1871, 1873-1875Photographed for the Wheeler Expedition
1880Appointed official photographer for the U.S. Treasury Department, but retired shortly thereafter for health reasons
1882 Jan. 14Died at West Brighton, Staten Island, N.Y.

Subject Headings

Related Material

  • William Bell Photographs, 1872

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Timothy H. O'Sullivan Photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Provenance

The Timothy H. O'Sullivan Photographs were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a purchase in 1972.

These and other photographs by western expeditionary photographers were purchased from Lowdermilk's bookstore in Washington, D.C. prior to its liquidation.

Processing Information

This collection was previously processed by Bill Erwin in 1982. Erwin conducted a great deal of research used to identify photographs made by western expeditionary photographers. Every effort was made to retain both the organization and informational aspects of his work except when they conflicted with more modern practices.

Information folders contain copies of earlier catalog records and bibliographic information for related sources including sources in which these photographs have been published.

Additional folders contain photocopies of photographs annotated by the National Archives, and reference prints made from copy negatives held in this collection.

Quotation marks were used to indicate information taken directly from the photographs.

When photographs were identified as O'Sullivan's by comparison with negatives held at the National Archives the relevant negative number has been provided.

Processed by Chris Black, November 24, 2004

Encoded by Chris Black, Michael Shumate

Completed September 2006

Accession is described in this finding aid.

Descriptive sources and standards used to create this inventory: DACS, EAD, NCEAD guidelines, and our local Style Guide.