albumen silver print, 22,4 x 27,8 cm / 8,9 x 11 inch
This photography by Timothy O’SULLIVAN illustrates the ambivalence about his artworks, and about two tendancies in its interpretation. Rosalind KRAUSS explained in The Originality of the Avant-garde and Other Modernist Myths (1985) that the XXth century made this photography considered as a model of almost abstract beauty. Nevertheless, according to KRAUSS the purpose was mostly scientific. Her approach is therefore radically different from the one in fashion at that moment, defended by Ansel ADAMS, Beaumont NEWHALL or John SZARKOWSKI, who saw O’SULLIVAN as a forerunner of photographic modernity.
Both approaches are, by the reception of O’SULLIVAN’s work since the 1930s, both interesting and to some extent valid. KRAUSS rightly argues that these images originally had a scientific purpose. While Ansel ADAMS and many landscape photographers has taken them as models, making them de facto major pieces of modernity.
Note that the nineteenth-century photographers were close to the fine arts, because science and art were still closely related (let us keep in mind the herbaria and sketches produced by artists and scientists until the widespread dissemination of photography). There are, therefore, correspondences with the masters of landscape painting. The repetition of the more or less triangular masses recall, by the composition, the techniques used in painting. We find this technique, for example, in The sea of ice of the German romantic painter Casper David FRIEDRICH. The triangular pattern is detached, again, in the different planes of the image.