At a time when many Americans still had little idea what the whole of the United States actually looked like, photographers played an important role in educating citizens on their ever-changing expanses of territory.
The Taft Art Museum opened an exhibit at the end of October — “Picturing The West: Masterworks of 19th-Century Landscape Photography” — in their Fifth-Third Gallery space.
During the 19th century, the population in the U.S. was exploding, with settlers pushing further and further toward the western frontier. As railroads and roads continued to develop, so too did the art and technology of photography.
In this time of American history, “the public craved images of America’s untamed territory,” Taft Museum’s press release reads. “And intrepid photographers showed them what the rugged land looked like. They captured natural wonders, such as sweeping canyons and plunging waterfalls, and man-made marvels like railways and mining structures.”
The exhibit displays a total of 41 multipurpose photographs, assuming the roles of artistic works, historical documentation and promotion about the splendor of America. These images documented scientific and factual representations of nature, while also constructing an image of an American West that was ripe for development, exploitation, tourism and preservation.
The exhibit commemorates the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, with many photographs depicting many of the major features of the nation’s first national parks.
Works include photography from noteworthy photographers like Eadweard Muybridge, William Henry Jackson and Carleton E. Watkins, printed on 18-by-22 inch glass negatives called “mammoth plates.”
GO: “Picturing The West: Masterworks of 19th-Century Landscape Photography,” Taft Art Museum, 316 Pike St., Oct. 22-Jan. 15, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Closed Monday. $12.