The Fortieth Parallel
"Place and people are made familiar to us by means of the camera in the hands of skillful operators, who, vying with each other in the excellence of their productions, avail themselves of every opportunity to visit interesting points, and to take care to lose no good chance to scour the country in search of new fields for photographic labor."
— Attributed to Timothy O'Sullivan, Harper's New Monthly Magazine
Vol. 39, Issue 232 (September 1869)
The “Fortieth Parallel” is a panoramic examination of precise yet arbitrary places found along this important parallel of latitude across the American landscape.
As the baseline for surveying the Kansas and Nebraska territory, the 40th parallel defined the settlement of a large part of the western United States and Clarence King surveyed a portion in the 1860s with photographer Timothy O’Sullivan. Using contemporary GPS technology together with an 8x10 camera, I have photographed the view from this line of latitude across the U.S. at every whole of degree of longitude. There are 50 of these confluences on land and the parallel roughly bisects the country, running from the New Jersey shoreline to Northern California. At each intersection, there is approximately a 20-square foot area in which I can compose a view. The format unites the project’s form and content, aesthetically and philosophically, and emulates a person’s entire field of vision. Not wanting to re-make O’Sullivan’s pictures or simply record topography, I see the project instead as a personal contemporary survey and one that engages the nature of how humans circumscribe and conceive the world.
Begun in 1998, before GPS selective availability was lifted, this project was completed in 2012. This series unites my interest in mapping with conceptually-based art practices and references several “histories”—my father’s history as a surveyor, my interests in maps and systems, the history of the mapping of the U.S. and photography’s role within it, and the history of GPS. By documenting the seemingly random terrain found at these intersections, I invite the viewer to consider the history of landscape, land use, locative technologies, and the built environment as well as their own relationship to place.
Featured in the July 2013 issue of the Big Red & Shiny Journal