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t H E E x P r E s s i v E P ot E N t i A l o F B o s s E ’ s l A N D s C A P E s Abby Moon ’17

enry Bosse’s cyanotypes are impressively nostalgic. U.s. steamlaunch “louise,” near Keokuk, iA (fig. 20) and From Bluffs at Merrimac, Minnesota (fig. 21) were both published in Bosse’s 1893 album views on the Mississippi river Between Minneapolis, Minn. and st. louis, Mo. six copies of this album have been found. Both of these prints belonged, in fact, to the very same volume—the Mackenzie album, which was disassembled in the 1990s and sold print by print at sotheby’s.1 the cyanotype prints exhibited in Bosse’s first album are much more than documents of a land being transformed; they are self-conscious, emotional maps of one man’s journey through it.


not even been exposed to images of the locations that he visited. U.s. steamlaunch “louise” effectively illustrates the complexity of settling and working along the Mississippi. the busy scene captures a steamboat, railcars, houses, and a station, all positioned around a small port. From Bluffs at Merrimac records the flow of the river and the foliage that comprised a portion of its ecosystem. the first manifestations of Western human intervention—boundary lines and mowed grass—are included in the foreground. the prints in views, when seen beside each other or within a published reproduction of one of Bosse’s original albums, together form a map-like narrative of the exploration and transformation of the great upper half of the river.

Both U.s. steamlaunch “louise” and From Bluffs at Merrimac are largescale oval cyanotype prints. these photographs depict scenes of the Mississippi river in the late nineteenth century. they are meticulous, wellconstructed images. they have few flaws and were carefully edited by the artist to obscure imperfections. in the case of U.s. steamlaunch “louise,” for example, there are small, difficult-to-discern white gaps in the lower left section of the print that were covered by Bosse with blue dye. From Bluffs at Merrimac takes an elevated view down onto the river whereas U.s. steamlaunch “louise” was composed from closer to water level. Both have some human subjects, but they are small and seen at a distance. the photographs depict both natural and industrial forms. From Bluffs at Merrimac contains almost only vegetation, water, and sky while U.s. steamlaunch “louise” makes the boat and human settlement central.

As some historians of photography have argued, the invention and early development of photography contributed to a broader intellectual shift in which humans began to find nature comprehensible.3 landscape photography, especially, was a means of capturing and ordering wild forms.4 Bosse certainly imposed some order on nature, both in the framing of these wide, sprawling vistas and in his meticulous printing. However, he subverted that triumph of logic in his choice to frame his prints in an unusual oval shape and also in his decision to print the landscapes in Prussian blue. in using the blue-toned printing process, Bosse prioritized the expressive qualities of his photographs over the reportorial qualities. He was an engineer and, therefore, no stranger to blueprints; the cyanotype process would have been familiar to him through his work with the Corps of Engineers. But he was also an artist. He saw the creative potential of this technological device, and he applied an expressive hand to the blue printing process.

Not long after immigrating to the United states from Prussia, Bosse began work as a draftsman for the U.s. Army Corps of Engineers. He was hired to survey the upper Mississippi river, between Minnesota and Missouri. the prints in the 1893 album are a compilation of the photographs he took during this expedition.2 Because the prints communicate a great deal about the physical nature of the river valley and the ways that industrialization transformed the land, they are reportorial. Bosse produced the prints at a time when relatively few other Westerners had explored this territory. Most had

the sentimentality of U.s. steamlaunch “louise” and From Bluffs at Merrimac is rooted in the expressive qualities of these photographs—specifically, in the blueness of Bosse’s prints and his treatment of human subjects. in his 1914 essay in Popular Photography, B. H. Wike posited that landscapes containing proportionately high amounts of water and foliage were the most appropriate candidates for printing in blue. Cyanotype printing enhanced these subjects because there is a natural presence of this hue in trees, water,

Fig. 20: Henry Bosse, American, born germany, 1844-1903, U.s. steamlaunch “louise” near Keokuk, iA, 1885, cyanotype, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Edward J. and Mary s. Holmes Fund, 2010.504 40

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period  

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period Edited by Nancy Kathryn Burns, Assistant Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Kristina Wilson...

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period  

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period Edited by Nancy Kathryn Burns, Assistant Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Kristina Wilson...