Informing Contexts, Contextual Research - To Subdue the Continent: Photographs of the Developing West

If we consider the West as not only a cultural idea deriving from geography but as mythology, then the West implies freedom, individualism, heroism.  (Phillips, et al., 1996)

In 1996, The San Francisco Museum of Modern art presented the exhibition Crossing the Frontier: Photographs of the Developing West, 1849 to the Present. The catalogue made to accompany this exhibition has been an incredibly useful resource when attempting to historically contextualize my work in progress. Sandra S. Phillips’ essay To Subdue the continent: Photographs of the Developing West  describes the rapid development of the American West and the simultaneous depiction of this new land through paintings and, soon after, photography. Phillips articulates ideas surrounding the ‘mythology’ of the American West and its representation of freedom, individualism and heroism. Phillips traces these associations back to Manifest Destiny, the 19th-century belief that justified the expansion of the US throughout the continent as God given. Phillips also draws an interesting distinction between photographs which are landscapes, and those of land use. With Ansel Adams falling into the former category, and photographers such as Richard Misrach the latter. 

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