Timothy O’Sullivan 1840–1882

Philp & Solomons (active 1870s)
Albumen silver print, c. 1870

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; gift of Larry J. West

Celebrated for his candid photographs of the western landscape, Timothy O’Sullivan began his career as an assistant to Alexander Gardner in Mathew Brady’s Washington, D.C., studio. During the Civil War, O’Sullivan traveled with the Union army throughout the mid-Atlantic states, creating memorable photographs of the death and destruction visited upon the region.

In 1867 he traveled West for the first time under the auspices of Clarence King’s Fortieth Parallel Survey. Although he made Washington, D.C., home, O’Sullivan spent a part of each of the next seven years working in the West for King and later George Wheeler’s Hundredth Meridian Survey.

Like most landscape photographers of this period, O’Sullivan created many compositions that glorified the natural beauty of the land. Yet more often he represented the western landscape as a desolate, arid terrain that seemed incapable of supporting settlement. O’Sullivan died of tuberculosis at age forty-two.