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Spectacular Images of the American West Shot 150 Years Ago

darkroom wagon, pulled by four mules

Pioneer photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan is known for many things, but his infamous “Harvest of Death” photograph is definitely up there. Also among his notable works are his photos of the American Civil War and Western United States. He then took some of the earliest photos of the untamed and legendary “Wild West”.

train tracks

The teams were made up of scientists, soldiers, artists, and photographers like him, tasked with determining the best ways to benefit from the region’s untouched natural resources. O’Sullivan’s contributions to that effort were through his lens, capturing invaluable photographs that embody the enormity of the West. In his remarkable body of work, he documented the Native American inhabitants as well as the very earliest settlers who were already making their indelible imprints on the landscape. But more than anything, O’Sullivan froze in time the raw and rugged beauty of the American West.

150 years ago american west

american west

In those years, O’Sullivan produced a collection of work that was unprecedented, and casts a giant shadow to this day on works of similar content that have followed. Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O’Sullivan, is the first major publication on O’Sullivan in more than thirty years. It is a treasure trove for both the historian of pre-industrialized America, as well as the photographic medium asserting its indispensable worth.

fishing american west

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (1840 – 1882) was born in Ireland and came to New York City as a young child two years later with his parents. As a young man, he was employed and trained by Mathew Brady, one of the most celebrated 19th century American photographers. Brady is renowned for his portraits of celebrities and his documentation of the Civil War. He is considered to be father of photojournalism. The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O’Sullivan, is an exhibition made possible by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Library of Congress.

miners in tunnels

See 34 of the remarkable images here.

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Patricia Ramos the author

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.

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