[WHEELER SURVEY]. -- Timothy O'SULLIVAN (ca 1840-1882) and William BELL (1830-1910), photographers
[Photographs Showing Landscapes, Geological and Other Features of Portions of the Western Territory of the United States]
[Washington, D.C. circa 1875]. 6 albumen photographs, each mounted on two-toned Wheeler Survey mount with letterpress imprints and titles.
Scarce O'Sullivan and Bell photographs from the landmark Wheeler Surveys.
A collection of six rare Wheeler Survey images featuring Colorado and Idaho from the 1874 season. These images therefore were not included in the 50 plate set of images from the 1871 and 1873 season, and so are not included in the Dover Publications work on that set published in 1983. The survey's main goal was to make topographic maps of the southwestern United States and the present series of images focuses on the landscapes of this region. The collection comprises the following subjects (with series identification numbers): 1) "Lake in Conejos Canon, Col." Not in Dover (IV:16). 2) "View Near Head of Conejos River, Col." Not in Dover (IV:17). 3) "Park Near Head Of Conejos Cañon, Col." Not in Dover (IV:18). 4) "'Lost' Lakes Near Miegs Peak, Col., Lakes 9,500 feet above sea-level." Not in Dover (IV:19). 5) "Alpine Lake, Cerro Blanco Mountains, Col. Height of Peak over 14,000 feet...." Not in Dover (IV:20). 6) "Snake River Canon, Idaho. View from above Shoshone Falls." Not in Dover (IV:25). The Irish-born O'Sullivan's pioneering photographic work started during the American Civil War when he served as Matthew Brady's apprentice and then through his work in Alexander Gardener's studio. He afterwards became the official photographer on the United States Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel under Clarence King from 1867-1869. In 1870 he joined a survey team in Panama to survey for a canal across the isthmus. He joined Lt.George M. Wheeler's survey west of the 100th meridian west from 1871-74, facing starvation on the Colorado River when some of the expedition's boats capsized. Only a small percentage of the 300 negatives he took survived the trip back East. He spent the last years of his short life in Washington, D.C., as official photographer for the U.S. Geological Survey and the Treasury Department. For his Wheeler Survey photographs, the English-born Bell used two cameras: an 11 x 8-inch camera for large prints, and an 8 x 5 inch for stereo cards. He employed both wet and dry collodion processes on this expedition. As a result, these photographs are characterized by dark foregrounds with elements becoming increasingly lighter in tone as distances increase. All of the photographs were taken during the series of expeditions known by the collective title of the "Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian" (or more usually as the Wheeler Survey after its leader, Lieutenant George M. Wheeler). The photographs document the work and explorations of the survey, and include some of the earliest photographs taken of the Grand Canyon and of Indian tribes and sites in northern Arizona and New Mexico. A number of these images have achieved iconic status among the images of the early West. "The survey that produced the photographs...was led by George M. Wheeler, a native of Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Born in 1842, Wheeler began his [Army] career in topographical engineering in 1867...His early reconnaissance work in Nevada and Utah convinced him of the need for a new survey, comparable in scale to those of [Clarence] King, [Ferdinand Vandiveer] Hayden and [John Wesley] Powell...Wheeler's proposal met with a favorable reception in Washington" - GEORGE M. WHEELER'S PHOTOGRAPHIC SURVEY OF THE AMERICAN WEST, 1871-1873 (pp.v-vi). The survey took place over four seasons in 1871-1874. The photographer in 1871, 1873and 1874 was Timothy O'Sullivan, "born around 1840, probably in Ireland. Little is known of his early life on Staten Island, New York. As a teenager, he apprenticed himself to Mathew B. Brady, one of the outstanding American photographers of the nineteenth century...The expeditionary phase of O'Sullivan's professional life began in 1867 with the King survey 'and in 1870 he served as official photographer for an expedition to the Isthmus of Darien to map out a possible canal route. O'Sullivan, by then a seasoned trekker, was one of the first men Wheeler selected... in 1871.' The first season saw the expedition endure many privations but despite this O'Sullivan was tireless in his efforts to record the magnificent scenery. 'The extant views taken in 1871... show the pristine beauty of the canyon country. The surface of the Colorado River appears deceptively placid in these photographs, an illusion created by the [relatively] long exposure of the negatives. Not all the vantage points O'Sullivan used are accessible today. The construction of the Hoover Dam in 1936 submerged portions of the Colorado gorge under the waters of Lake Mead.' "For the 1872 season, O'Sullivan was replaced by William Bell, who is variously identified as a Philadelphian or as an Englishman...all agree that he was a skilled photographer." His photographs were taken using a dry plate process that had some advantages, but required much longer exposures than the wet plate process employed by O'Sullivan and most other photographers at the time. This obviously influenced his choice of subjects, but clearly in no way handicapped his ability to compose spectacular images of great beauty. O'Sullivan, who had been temporarily reassigned to another survey resumed work with the Wheeler survey in 1873 and, despite additional responsibilities including the command of several field parties, he "found time to take some of his most memorable pictures. In addition to the landscape vistas, he obtained views of sites of important in the Indian and Spanish periods in the regions history." "The Wheeler survey achieved its stated goals, to the extent that it mapped vast tracts of land and amassed volumes of scientific data...The survey's photographs of the majestic Western wilderness endure as historic documents and as powerful artistic images" (op. cit p.vii).
Literature: George M. ...Wheeler's Photographic Survey of the American West, 1871-1873 (New York: Dover Publications, 1983).