Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, born Ireland, 1840–1882)
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Image: 22.3 x 29 cm (8 3/4 x 11 7/16 in.) Mat: 41.3 x 47.6 cm (16 1/4 x 18 3/4 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Marlene Nathan Meyerson Family Foundation Gift, 2005
Not on view
For some of the most mesmerizing photographs made for ostensibly documentary purposes, we have only clues to elucidate the original intention. This picture has been published as both "Steam Rising from a Fissure near Virginia City, Nevada" and "Ruby Valley, Nevada;" Clarence King titled it as cited above. None of the titles clarifies the picture's mystery. Surely the shadowy figure is on the edge of an abyss, but whether he is to be swallowed up by it or has just risen from it is unclear. Maybe the point is his very ambiguity in the infernal, Dantean space. Or perhaps he is the anchor in a depiction of an amorphous geological event--the familiar entity by which all things are measured, including the density of vapor and the passage of time.
Inscription: Stamped in ink on print, verso BL: "EA [encircled]"
[Rinhart Galleries, New York]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, October 8, 1976
Museum of Modern Art, New York. "Before Photography," May 9, 1981–July 5, 1981.
Joslyn Art Museum. "Before Photography," September 12, 1981–November 8, 1981.
Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, UCLA. "Before Photography," January 4, 1982–February 21, 1982.
Art Institute of Chicago. "Before Photography," March 15, 1982–May 9, 1982.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," May 25, 1993–July 4, 1993.
Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," August 7, 1993–October 2, 1993.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," June 19, 1994–September 11, 1994.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Photography from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," February 26, 1999–May 23, 1999.
Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain. "Le Désert," June 20, 2000–November 5, 2000.
Fundación "La Caixa", Madrid. "Le Désert," January 25, 2001–April 15, 2001.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Old Faces and Places: American Photographs, 1845-1870," February 3, 2004–April 25, 2004.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 40," April 19, 2005–July 10, 2005.
Horan, James E. Jr. Mr. Timothy O'Sullivan, America's forgotten photographer : the life and work of the brilliant photographer whose camera recorded the American scene from the battlefields of the Civil War to the frontiers of the West. New York: Bonanza Books, 1966. p. 262.
Naef, Weston J., and James Wood. Era of Exploration: The Rise of Landscape Photography in the American West, 1860–1885. Buffalo: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1975. no. 30.
Galassi, Peter. Before Photography: Painting and the Invention of Photography. New York: Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1981. no. 68, p. 90.
Hambourg, Maria Morris, Pierre Apraxine, Malcolm Daniel, Virginia Heckert, and Jeff L. Rosenheim. The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. pl. 114.
Thesiger, Wilfred. The Desert. New York: Thames & Hudson Inc., 2000. pp. 156–157.