Tulasi Johnson is a senior in the History of Art department at UC Berkeley.
The formal qualities of this photograph taken by Annie Alexander, founder of both the UC Museum of Paleontology and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, recalls the picturesque, sublime qualities of both the painted landscape as well as early Western photography by the likes of Timothy O’Sullivan and Carleton Watkins. Taken on an arduous 1907 field expedition to Alaska (which Alexander headed), the composition foregrounds the still, serene mountain lake in the foreground, which reflects and doubles the mountain vista. The two dark middleground hills frame the recession into space provided by the mountain range in the background. It was a treat to stumble across this image in the vast MVZ photo archives during a conservation rehousing project at UC Berkeley. Finding such a photo embedded in its original context, as a corollary to scientific field notes, recalls the fact that prior to the 1970’s, O’Sullivan and Russell’s photos were overlooked as well. It was not until they were retroactively inserted into the cannon by mid-century art historians like Weston Naef and John Szarkowski, and further analyzed by critics such as Alan Sekula and Rosalind Kraus, that they began to be seen as art, and not as mere documentary evidence. This photograph points to the exciting potential of the archive to locate early Western landscape photography produced by women, a relative rarity!