Fissure Vent at Steamboat Springs, Nevada

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, born Ireland, 1840–1882)

Albumen silver print from glass negative
Image: 22.3 x 29 cm (8 3/4 x 11 7/16 in.) Mat: 41.3 x 47.6 cm (16 1/4 x 18 3/4 in.)
Credit Line:
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Marlene Nathan Meyerson Family Foundation Gift, 2005
Accession Number:
  • Description

    For some of the most mesmerizing photographs made for ostensibly documentary purposes, we have only clues to elucidate the original intention. This picture has been published as both "Steam Rising from a Fissure near Virginia City, Nevada" and "Ruby Valley, Nevada;" Clarence King titled it as cited above. None of the titles clarifies the picture's mystery. Surely the shadowy figure is on the edge of an abyss, but whether he is to be swallowed up by it or has just risen from it is unclear. Maybe the point is his very ambiguity in the infernal, Dantean space. Or perhaps he is the anchor in a depiction of an amorphous geological event--the familiar entity by which all things are measured, including the density of vapor and the passage of time.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Stamped in ink on print, verso BL: "EA [encircled]"

  • Provenance

    [Rinhart Galleries, New York]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, October 8, 1976

  • Notes

    From the King Expedition, 1867-72.