Timothy O'Sullivan started his photography career by assisting Matthew Brady and working with Alexander Gardner in documenting the American Civil War. While employed by Brady, O'Sullivan produced many well known images of the event, most notably the photograph titled "The Harvest of Death" which depicts dead soldiers from the Battle of Gettysburg in 1963. When the American Civil War ended, O'Sullivan was just beginning his career.
From 1867 to 1873, he was the official photographer for the U.S. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, better known as the King Survey. This survey explored from western Nevada to eastern Wyoming and was designed to attract interest for perspective land settlers. His images were among the first to show the barren landscapes, prehistoric ruins, and Native Americans of the Southwest. O'Sullivan produced about 450 finished photographs during his time with the survey group. This collection became a major contribution of O'Sullivan's photographic career and has stirred a debate into his artistic or documentary intentions.
Sixty photographs from the collection are currently on display at the Art Institue of Chicago. Organized by curators Keith Davis and Jane Aspinwall of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, the exhibition is titled "Timothy O'Sullivan: The King Survey Photographs" and will be on display through January 15, 2012. Then the exhibition will travel to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art where the entire collection will be on view from April 14 through August 26, 2012.
The exhibition is accompanied by a striking 260-page catalogue, published by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press. The catalogue includes all of 450 photographs credited to O'Sullivan, essays by curators Keith Davis, Jane Aspinwall, and a foreword by Julian Zugazagoitia, director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Keith Davis asked Malcolm Grear Designers to design the catalogue. Malcolm Grear Designers has previously collaborated with Davis on numerous books for the Hallmark Photographic Collection, including his important series The Origins of American Photography.