Timothy O’Sullivan, who had been an apprentice to Mathew Brady, headed west after the Civil War to photograph the American frontier. O’Sullivan made three expeditions to the West. In 1867 he was appointed photographer for the Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, the first governmental survey of the American West. In 1871, O'Sullivan joined the geological survey under the command of Lieutenant George M. Wheeler of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. His third expedition in 1873, also with Wheeler, included the Zuni and Magia pueblos and Canyon de Chelly.
Toby Jurovics, exhibition curator for a 2010 (Smithsonian and Library of Congress) O’Sullivan’s exhibit said, “The important thing about O'Sullivan is that this is a person who spent three years during the Civil War and seven years in the West with his head under a dark cloth making pictures. There’s an intimacy in the creation of his photographs that goes beyond being an agent for a scientific purpose or government agenda, or making photographs as a hired documentarian. At the end of the day, it comes down to a single person with a camera making decisions, and the ones O'Sullivan made were pretty interesting. What you can tell about O’Sullivan is that he had very different ideas about how to structure his photographs. If you put one hundred nineteenth-century photographs in a box, you can pull out the O'Sullivans pretty easily.”