Thursday, July 7, 2011

BBHC Resident Fellowship Program explores photography and geology links in the West

With a multitude of data, the Hayden Survey introduced the world to Yellowstone National Park. The expedition’s remarkable photographs are part of an illustrated presentation by Dr. Andrew E. Hershberger of Bowling Green State University, Ohio, (BGSU) on Thursday, July 14, 2 p.m. at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center’s Coe Auditorium. The program focuses on the past and present relationships between photography and geology in the American West, as well as the U.S. Geological Survey or USGS-era immediately following the Civil War—including those famous Hayden surveys of Yellowstone.

The program begins at 2 p.m. and is free to the public. This presentation is part of an ongoing series sponsored by the Center’s Resident Fellowship Program.

“When studying the history of photography, the photographs created in the territories of the American West following the Civil War stand out as a group for their interdisciplinary complexity and sheer beauty,” Hershberger says. “The fact that these images were most frequently (but not always) created for the use of USGS geologists and scientists makes their aesthetic appeal all the more interesting to discuss.”

According to Hershberger, for well over a century since they were created, these images have been the subject of some debate. “Numerous art, photographic, and scientific historians have disagreed with each other about how best to characterize the landscape photographs created by USGS-era photographers such as William Henry Jackson, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, William H. Bell, and John K. Hillers, among others,” Hershberger adds.

As Associate Professor of Contemporary Art History and Chair of Art History at BGSU, Hershberger has published multiple peer-reviewed articles on a broad spectrum of topics related to the history of photography. Included in those works were stories on photographers as diverse as Felice Beato, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, Jay Dusard, and Minor White, and on photographic theorists such as Rosalind Krauss and André Malraux.

Hershberger received his PhD from Princeton University in 2001, and he holds other degrees from Princeton, the University of Chicago, and the University of Arizona as well. He is nearing completion on a large anthology project entitled Photographic Theory, to be published in 2012. Hershberger’s lecture at the Historical Center is connected to his new anthology project, currently titled “Photography and Geology.”

For his fellowship, Hershberger has spent three weeks researching in the rich collections of the McCracken Research Library and the Whitney Gallery of Western Art at the Center. His goal has been to make comparisons between USGS-era texts with corresponding original photographs by the USGS-era photographers. Hershberger compares that material with newer published re-photographs and texts by contemporary photographers like Mark Klett, and alongside USGS-era paintings and prints by Thomas Moran who joined the Hayden survey of Yellowstone in 1871.

By selecting and juxtaposing numerous texts and images, Hershberger’s proposed anthology does two things. First, it highlights the changes in western landscapes and photographic interpretations of them since the 1870s. Secondly, it studies the variations in land use practices within “Old West” versus “New West” cultures.

As Hershberger put it, “Given the prominence of W.H. Jackson’s 1871 photographs of Yellowstone within the USGS-era, and given their famous impact on the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the Center’s location in Cody, Wyoming, and its rich USGS-era holdings, makes the Historical Center the logical—even ideal—base of operations for this new anthology project.”

Attendees should alert the Center’s admissions staff that they’re on hand to attend the lecture. For more information, e-mail Linda Clark or call 307.578.4043.

Committed to connecting people with the Spirit of the American West, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center weaves the varied threads of the western experience—history and myth, art and Native culture, firearms technology and the nature of Yellowstone—into the rich panorama that is the American West. The Center, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is now operating its summer schedule, open daily, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. For general information, visit www.bbhc.orgor call 307.587.4771.

Photo: Crater of Castle Geyser. Photo by William Henry Jackson, 1872. NPS photo. k#64,211

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