The Second Survey
(2009 – Current)
In the middle of the 19th century the American West was still considered frontier. Here the native tribes and the wildlife were still Kings, but slowly and steady the frontier was being pushed further and further west by the ever growing numbers of immigrants looking for a better life. At the same time federal government officials were traveling across Arizona, Utah, Nevada and the rest of the west seeking to uncover the lands natural resources. The first photographer joining these teams were Timothy O'Sullivan who from 1867 to 1869 was the official photographer on the United States Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel under Clarence King and later on the United States Geographical Explorations West of the One Hundredth Meridian under Lt. George M. Wheeler.
My first experience with the American West was in 2009 traveling in the Southwest around Utah, Nevada and Arizona and immediately I fell in love with the landscape. I had always wanted to go to the Southwest but was in no way prepared for the effect it would have on me. It was like I could feel the people who had walked the ground centuries before me and in a sense I felt very much at home. Since then I have travelled numerous times to the American West, especially the Southwest, hiking and backpacking into the desert backcountry bringing my camera every time trying to do my own survey of a landscape now well mapped but still way out of reach and out of mind for many people. People have been there of course, first of all the indigenous people who have inhabited the place for thousands of years but also cattle people, prospectors, explorers etc. but in a sense much of it is still as much frontier as it was some 150 years ago.
O'Sullivan's pictures were among the very first to record the American Southwest. It involved picturing nature as an untamed pre-industrialized land without using the normal landscape painting conventions. Most of the photographers sent to document the west tried to make this strange new land look accessible and even picturesque – but not O'Sullivan. He pictured the land as it was, forbidding and inhospitable.
I didn't know about Timothy O'Sullivan until just recently (2012) but upon discovering his work I felt a strong sense of familiarity with the way he saw the landscape through the lens. Like O'Sullivan I'm not interested in portraying the landscape in only picturesque ways. I'm not interested in waiting for sunrises or sunsets, I'm interested in the landscape on it's own rugged terms. I'm simply trying to look at the landscape the same way an explorer would have done 150 or 200 years ago and in many ways when I'm walking the desolate landscape with my backpack or sitting around the campfire surrounded by complete darkness I feel like I'm the first person to be there. Of course that's not the case but some places you could probably stay for months or even years without seeing another soul. The Second Survey is about all that; seeing the grand landscape for the first time, feeling very small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things alone in a small tent miles and miles away from the nearest civilization, the feeling of absolute solitude, gratitude, complete silence and most of all a feeling of just being.
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