Vermilion Creek


Timothy O’Sullivan, Vermilion Creek, 1870

This fine, mounted print from the Library of Congress is Timothy O’Sullivan’s Vermilion Creek, 1870. It was taken as part of a US government survey of the American west.

Its full title is Plate 57 from: Geological exploration of the fortieth parallel / U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers; Clarence King, geologist in charge. [Washington, D.C., 187-?].

The image has become one of O’Sullivan’s most familiar images and was once put forward as a sort of proto-modernist artwork for its flattened composition,, predicting early 20th century photographic abstraction.

O’Sullivan used the collodion wet plate ‘process which was sensitive to blue light but insensitive to red. Blues came out light and reds dark (why faces sometimes looked so tanned). In this example the blue sky overexposes the plate and renders the sky off-white.

This creates a neat effect of negative space, especially when it’s turned upside-down.

Vemilion-Creek 2


Noah Doely


Noah Doely, The Expanse of a Fact, 2012

This sweet and curious photograph was made by Noah Doely, a US artist working with the collodion wet-plate process. It’s part of a series called The Expanse of a Fact about a fictional white-bearded man exploring the moon through constructed models. “I see him as an amalgamation of other figures from history from both the realms of science and art, from Kepler to Georges Méliès.” (-Noah Doely)

Noah Doely is part of worldwide reaction against the ease and sterility of digital photography, returning to the most recalcitrant and poisonous processes of the 19th century, wet-plate, Daguerreotype etc.

Surely it’s only a matter of time before someone revives Niépce’s process of 1826 and mixes up some Bitumen of Judea!


Dorothea and Florence


Dorothea Lange, “Migrant Mother” 1936. (Library of Congress)

You probably know Dorothea Lange took this famous shot and worked for the Farm Security Administration, President Roosevelt’s Depression-era attempt to help the rural poor.

Lange was employed by the FSA information service run by the legendary picture editor Roy Stryker. It was a propaganda unit, disseminating photographs of American rural and town life to any publication that would use it. The undeveloped film would be sent from the field back to the East Coast to be developed and printed, them archived.

This image shows the actual original print mounted on its library-archive card, an artifact of mythical proportions considering that from this very object all future Migrant Mothers followed. Click on the image below and you can read the identifying information: ‘Destitute Destitute peapickers, a 32 year old mother of seven. February 1936.’

Putting aside the rudeness of citing a woman’s age in public, it fails to mention her name. In fact she was Florence Thompson who was soon to become unhappy about having her likeness appear everywhere without credit and without her receiving a red cent.

And would the immense popularity of this image have been different had people known she was a Cherokee woman from the Indian Territory of Oklahoma?



Matthias Heiderich


Matthias Heiderich, from Snow Blind series

Matthias Heiderich (great name!) is a 31 year old self-taught photographer who specializes in ultra clean, geometrically perfect photographs of Berlin architecture. He is certainly in the line of Germanic structuralist/minimalists who go all the way back to the 1920s. His website shows a large body of consistent work in this style.

Something notable about this artist is how he puts his work in the public arena. His website has links to a series of online galleries who sell editioned pigment prints of his photographs. Carte Blanche gallery in San Francisco sells his prints for as little as $99, although other galleries have them for much more.

This is a recent development in the marketing of photographic art prints. The combination of calibrated computer/printer gives a new twist to the reproducability of photography, intrinsic to the medium since Fox Talbot’s negative/positive process announced in 1839. High quality archival prints, identical to the original artist’s proof, can be be printed with much greater ease and control than were earlier darkroom prints by artist-photographers.

You may think that at least a darkroom print was hand-made and therefore imbued with the artist’s ‘aura’, but in many cases they were made by darkroom technicians. Cartier-Bresson prints can sell for tens of thousands of dollars, but he gave up darkroom work in the 1930s!