Guide to the Timothy H. O'Sullivan Photographs, 1868-1873
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.
- Collection Number
- Timothy H. O'Sullivan photographs
- O'Sullivan, Timothy H., 1840-1882
- 1.6 Linear Feet, 35 Items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Material in English
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.
Access to the Collection
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.
Use & Permissions
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.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], Timothy H. O'Sullivan Photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
National Archives Number: 77-KN-16
copy negative available: THO.N12
National Archives number: 106-WB-29
National Archives Number: 106-WB-13
copy negative available: THO.N22
National Archives number 106-WB-27
National Archives number 106-WB-47
National Archives number 106-WB-12
National Archives number 106-WB-65
copy negative available: THO.N33
Born in Ireland
Apprenticed under Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner
Photographed the Civil War, sometimes for Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner
Photographed for the King Expedition
Became photographer for the Darien Survey, which explored possible routes for the Panama Canal
Photographed for the Wheeler Expedition
Appointed official photographer for the U.S. Treasury Department, but retired shortly thereafter for health reasons
|1882 Jan. 14||
Died at West Brighton, Staten Island, N.Y.
The following collections in the Duke University David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library may contain related material:
- William Bell Photographs, 1872 John K. Hillers Photographs, 1871-1889 and undated William Henry Jackson Photographs, 1869-1878 and undated
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- Geographical Survey (U.S.)
- King, Clarence, 1842-1901
- O'Sullivan, Timothy H., 1840-1882
- O'Sullivan, Timothy H., 1840-1882
- Wheeler, George M. (George Montague), 1842-1905
- Southwest, New -- Pictorial works
- Southwest, New -- Discovery and exploration
- West (U.S.) -- Pictorial works
- West (U.S.) -- Discovery and exploration
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.
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.