American West and Photography

$45.00 hardcover

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Meaningful Places: Landscape Photographers in the Nineteenth-Century American West

Rachel McLean Sailor

Winner of the 2016 Barbara Sudler Award from History Colorado

The early history of photography in America coincided with the Euro-American settlement of the West. This thoughtful book 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 Rachel 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.

The book explores 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.


Rachel McLean Sailor is an assistant professor of art history at the University of Wyoming.


“Rich with pictures, Meaningful Places teases out the layers of meaning in late nineteenth-century western photography and recounts the experiences of some fascinating . . . landscape photographers.”


Kansas History

“An interesting and creatively conceived book.”


Nebraska History

“( Meaningful Places) is a terrific engagement with significant western photography that has slipped out of view of most scholarship. It will be a thought-provoking addition to the library of anyone interested in the role of photography in culture.”


“Engaging and accessible. . . . Sailor carries an important thread throughout the book: we need to examine Native Americans’ relationships to photographed landscapes and the ways in which photographers acknowledged those relationships, rewrote them to fit their own purposes, or ignored them completely.”


Oregon Historical Quarterly

“Sailor’s study of resident western photographers demonstrates impressive breadth and expands the literature on the role of the medium in the Euro-American settlement of the region. Full of previously unpublished camera-images from western state historical societies and museums, as well as well-known national collections, Meaningful Places offers a rich beginning for more locally oriented histories of photography in the nineteenth-century American West.”



7 x 10 in. 240 pages 106 halftones, 3 maps