An Irishman Captures the West

Image

Timothy O’Sullivan, who in 1872 photographed the grand, sweeping vista seen above, was of Irish ancestry.   As a teenager he worked in the studio of the legendary 19th century photographer Mathew Brady, who is accepted by American scholars as the father of photo-journalism.  (In my third novel, The Outcasts, Mathew Brady‘s photographic work is featured prominently as a reminder of the overwhelming loss of the men and boys who fought and died in the Civil War.)

A veteran of the war, O’Sullivan turned his hand to photographing the battlefield horrors in the first few years of the conflict before setting out on his cross-continental expeditions.

Using a box camera, he worked with Government teams as they explored thousands of miles of uncharted land. O’Sullivan was one of the first photographers to capture images of the Native American population along with an accompanying team of artists, fellow photographers, scientists and soldiers as they explored Colorado, Nevada and Utah.  He drove a horse-drawn dark room wagon so that he could develop his images as they were taken. He spent seven years exploring the landscape and thousands of pictures have survived from his travels.

O’Sullivan died from tuberculosis at the age of 42 in 1882, a few years after the project had finished.  His work, viewed by thousands, was largely responsible for many settlers risking the hardships of the West to begin anew after the devastation of the Civil War.

For earlier posts, see below: