Fortieth Parallel / Rory Hamovit / May & June 2017
Between 1867 and 1872 the photographer Timothy H. O'Sullivan joined the Geographical Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel lead by the geologist Clarence King. With the survey traveling close to the northern fortieth parallel, O'Sullivan photographed throughout the territories that would become the present states of California, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. Later surveys took him on geography explorations through the southwest, through the current states of Arizona and New Mexico. Taking images of the primarily desert landscape and its strange features, O'Sullivan was tasked with a subject matter with little precedent at the time. The comprehensibility of the land's scale and character were left to O'Sullivan's imagination and improvisation with the camera.
During the summer of 2015 and 2016 I set off on two two-week road trips retracing the survey's route. Gone are the frontiersmen, or, the men who claimed these places for their own and gave them their new names. In the Western States there are few feats of strength left to prove, and without the bravado of discovery we are left with the menial tasks of superficial preservation and mouth agape marveling. What are men then when there’s no masculinity to prove? In the shadow of our forbearers, what do we do when to “reimagine” means to settle for second place? These are landscapes of an identity crisis.