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Mapping the West: Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Photographs from the Boston Public Library

January 15 to February 28, 1999



Mapping the West is a historical survey that examines the methods by which American photographers recorded the physical terrain of the west, and helped shape their country's perception of the frontier and its native inhabitants, This exhibition of 75 photographs originated at the Boston University Art Gallery, and is accompanied by a 36-page catalogue written by Kim Sichel, Director of Museum Studies at Boston University.

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 remote sites. These cumbersome tools and conditions insured that photographers worked not as solitary artists but as collaborative partners. Mapping the West 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Nineteenth-century American:landscape photography has long been studied by cultural historians who view the images as historical documents, and by connoisseurs, who revere the best images as art objects.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.

Mapping the West: Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Photographs from the Boston Public Library is organized by Boston University and circulated by Curatorial Assistance, Los Angeles.

From top to bottom: Untitled; Alexander Gardner, Mushroom Rock on Alum Creek, KS, 1867.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 8/24/10

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