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.