I’m having lunch and reading James Horan’s Timothy O’Sullivan, America’s Forgotten Photographer.
A quote at the beginning of Chapter Four, “The King Expedition: 1867-69,” caught my eye:
There is in the entire region of the falls such a wildness of beauty that a feeling pervades the mind almost unconsciously that you are, if not the first white man who has ever trod that trail, certainly one of the very few who have ventured so far.
The author is writing about the Shoshone Falls, near present-day Twin Falls, Idaho.
What makes the Harper’s New Monthly Magazine article from which this quote is taken especially interesting is that it appears to be based entirely or almost entirely by information provided by Timothy O’Sullivan who, although unnamed in the article, is its central subject. Indeed it would not be surprising if the listed author, John Samson, is a pseudonym for O’Sullivan. The article is adorned with thirteen woodcuts taken directly from O’Sullivan’s photographs.
Here is one of O’Sullivan’s images of the falls.
And here is what it looks like today:
The funny thing is that people seem to instinctively crop out all of the signs of civilization when they make their images. You can see a few houses if you look closely. But there are more just off-camera to the right. And the photographers are standing in a visitor center, poised to give the best view of the falls.
Here are two Google Maps images of the surrounding area, one at a smaller scale, one at a larger scale:
Following O’Sullivan’s trail might not offer the transcendence it once did, just a few generations ago, but at least we can sip a hot Starbucks as we ponder our decline.