Meaningful Places: Landscape Photographers in the Nineteenth-Century American West, by Rachel McLean Sailor, won History Colorado’s 2016 Barbara Sudler Award. The award, which includes a cash prize of $500 for the author, is presented biennially to a nonfiction book on a western American topic by a female author.
Exploring the early history of photography in America as it coincided with the Euro-American settlement of the West, Meaningful Places argues that the rich history of western photography cannot be understood by focusing solely on the handful of well-known photographers whose work has come to define the era.
Art historian Sailor points out that most photographers in the West were engaged in producing images for their local communities. These pictures didn’t just entertain the settlers but gave them a way to understand their new home. Photographs could help the settlers adjust to their new circumstances by recording the development of a place—revealing domestication, alteration, and improvement.
Meaningful Places examines the cultural complexity of regional landscape photography, western places, and local sociopolitical concerns. Photographic imagery, like western paintings from the same era, enabled Euro-Americans to see the new landscape through their own cultural lenses, shaping the idea of the frontier for the people who lived there.
Sailor is an associate professor of art history at the University of Wyoming.