Organized by the Boston University Art Gallery
Kim Sichel, Curator
Making a photograph with the wet-collodion process in the western wilderness was no simple task; photographers hauled darkroom equipment and glass for negatives by mule trains to the remote sites. Cumbersome tools and conditions insured that western photographers, recording the geological, industrial, ethnographic, and touristic wonders of the landscape during the years directly after the Civil War, worked not as solitary artists but as collaborative partners. A variety of patrons bankrolled their efforts and their visual products served many purposes, ranging widely from fine art objects to scientific document to entrepreneurial advertisement. Together, all these different images created a perception of a new, tamed West. Mapping the West: Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Photographs from the Boston Public Library presents four kinds of collaborative projects: Carleton Watkins’s mammoth-plate Yosemite photographs sold to tourists and collectors, Alexander Gardner’s railroad portfolio intended to promote the Kansas Pacific Railroad’s building project, Timothy O’Sullivan’s photographs for Lieut. George M. Wheeler's Geographical Surveys of the Territories of the United States West of the 100th Meridian, and John K. Hillers’s photographs of native American culture for ethnographer and survey leader John Wesley Powell.
Nineteenth-century American landscape photography has long been studied by cultural historians, who view the images as historical documents, and by connoisseurs, who revere the best images as art objects. Mapping the West balances these two approaches by placing the photographs in their cultural context as riveting images made by individuals within a network of patrons, use patterns, and viewers.
NUMBER OF WORKS: 75
TOUR DATES: April 1997 - October 1999
SUPPORT MATERIALS: Publication, Boston University Art Gallery, 1992