One/Many: Western American Survey Photographs by Bell and O’Sullivan
February 2 – May 7, 2006
Timothy H. O'Sullivan, Shoshone Falls, Snake River, Idaho, View across Top of the Falls, 1874, Albumen print. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Purchase, Gift of the Smart Family Foundation in honor of the 30th Anniversary of the Smart Museum, 2003.147.30.
William Bell and Timothy H. O'Sullivan, two photographers who joined survey expeditions in the 1860s and 1870s, helped open the eyes of nineteenth-century Americans to the western frontier.
Their sweeping and dramatic landscape photographs emerged from government-sponsored geological surveys documenting the western territories. These "Great Surveys" explored huge swaths of land encompassing Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California.
Yet in this wilderness, Bell and O'Sullivan captured striking, technically complicated images that are now some of the most celebrated in early American photography. Particularly impressive are their large-scale panoramic views, which have rarely been seen. The exhibition reconstructed these panoramas from individual albumen prints for the first time since the nineteenth century.
Featuring over 60 vintage prints, One/Many highlighted the Smart's acquisition of a substantial body of work by Bell and O'Sullivan, presenting it in the context of the geographic surveys and the larger cultural and artistic traditions that helped define the American West.
Published in landscape format, with handsome full-page reproductions of the vintage photographs at nearly full scale (including gatefold panoramas), the related exhibition catalogue features scholarly essays by Joel Snyder and Josh Ellenbogen and a section on nineteenth-century photographic techniques.