Monday, September 15, 2008

Timothy O'Sullivan

Taking pictures in the early years of photography was hard work. Cameras were large, heavy boxes that sat on strong tripods. Bright light, and at least several seconds were needed to take a picture. The negative images were recorded on fragile glass plates that had to be coasted with light-sensitive chemicals just before the exposure was made, then developed immediately afterward. So a photographer working away from his studio had to carry a portable darkroom in his horse-drawn wagon. It would not be until the 1880s when rolls of film replaced glass plates for photographic negatives.

Despite these limitations, some early photographers managed to take remarkable pictures. One of the best photographers was Timothy O’Sullivan, who had a natural talent for selecting interesting subjects and making striking visual compositions. O’Sullivan learned his craft from the famous photographer Matthew Brady. During the Civil War, O’Sullivan accompanied the Union army; his heartbreaking battlefield images were published in a book, Harvest of Death, in 1863.

After the war he traveled with survey expeditions to the American West, taking memorable pictures of the Great Salt Lake, Arizona’s Canyon de Cheily, and other wonders of the then little-known region. He was the first to photograph the ruins of the ancient Native American civilization that flourished in the Southwest around 1100 A.D.

The image with this post is a Timothy O'Sullivan photograph.

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