Product Details

Iron Muse: Photographing the Transcontinental Railroad
Glenn Willumson
University of California Press
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Date Listed:
2019-10-14 00:00:00
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Untitled Document

Iron Muse

Photographing the Transcontinental Railroad

By Glenn Willumson.

Cloth with dust jacket, 7x10", 254 pages, illustrations, 8 color / 88 b/w photos, 1 map, index. 2013.

"The construction of the transcontinental railroad (1865–1869) marked a milestone in United States history, symbolizing both the joining of the country’s two coasts and the taming of its frontier wilderness by modern technology. But it was through the power of images—and especially the photograph—that the railroad attained its iconic status.

"Iron Muse provides a unique look at the production, distribution, and publication of images of the transcontinental railroad: from their use as an official record by the railroad corporations, to their reproduction in the illustrated press and travel guides, and finally to their adaptation to direct sales and albums in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Tracing the complex relationships and occasional conflicts between photographer, publisher, and curator as they crafted the photographs' different meanings over time, Willumson provides a comprehensive portrayal of the creation and evolution of an important slice of American visual culture.

"One way to approach Glenn Willumson's impressive book is to imagine yourself standing on the observation platform of a train speeding westward in 1868. Already disappearing from view are traditional ideas about the function of documentary photography, while at the other end of the train, precariously balanced on the cab of the locomotive, a photographer shoots pictures that show how successfully construction of the Transcontinental railroad is proceeding through the rugged western landscape.Willumson's thoughtful, carefully researched narrative works between these two views of railroad photography, explaining how the passive was gradually being supplanted by the active, but not quite so openly or aggressively as to suggest that the railroad's record of progress was any less authentic. Which tells us, once again, how effective such images were in selling the nineteenth-century West to the eastern half of the nation." - William Truettner, Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

"One comes away from this text with deeper appreciation of the production of these railroad images and of their manipulation, indeed with a heightened appreciation of the richness of the photographic archive itself." -Kenneth Haltman, author of Looking Close and Seeing Far: Samuel Seymour, Titian Ramsay Peale, and the Art of the Long Expedition, 1818-1823"

Table of Contents:



1. Preparing the Ground
2. Making the Photographs
3. Curating the Archive
4. Reproducing the Image


Selected Bibliography
List of Illustrations