Geological Surveys West of the 100th Meridian
Trained in the photography studio of Matthew Brady, O’Sullivan is most famous for producing Civil War and expeditionary photographs. These images were taken on Lt. George M. Wheeler’s famous Geographical Survey West of the 100th Meridian, which was conducted from 1871 to 1874 and sponsored by the U.S. government. The purpose of these expeditions was to survey and plan commercial development of the Western territories, planning railway systems and locating timber and mining resources. O’Sullivan’s two views of the Grand Canyon reflect the influence of the Hudson River School, promoting the sublime grandeur of the Western landscape. They also reflect the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, presenting these regions as habitable and capable of technological development. O’Sullivan also photographed the Native American populations encountered on these expeditions and is noted for his respectful, accurate depictions. However, this image of two Native American men wearing loincloths departs from O’Sullivan’s usual practice and suggests an effort to romanticize the subject, concealing the destructive effects of modern culture and assimilation on indigenous peoples. The three-dimensional illusion created by the stereoscope viewer served to promote a belief in the palpable reality of these more imaginary imperial conceptions of America.