Andrew Joseph Russell


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Photographer. He remains particularly associated with railroads, which he photographed during the Civil War and, afterward, in the West. Born in Nunda, in western New York State, Russell worked as a young man as a photographer in New York. During these early years of his career, he also painted landscapes and occasionally other subjects. During the Civil War he served as a captain in the U.S. Military Railroad Construction Corps, and in that capacity photographed the technological underpinnings of the conflict. In 1868 Russell was hired by the Union Pacific Railroad to document its progress in laying rails across the West. That year and the next, Russell produced a stunning record of the work that united the continent, a feat with both practical and symbolic implications. Russell organized the vacant landscapes into large, abstract patterns, with the rail bed frequently leading the eye into the distance. The splendor and vastness of the region's natural phenomena play against human will and the seemingly relentless progress of technology. As counterpoint, he often included tiny, faraway figures that serve as spatial markers or meditative reminders of human frailty. Russell was there, at Promontory Point, Utah, to record the celebration on 10 May 1869, when teams working from east and west met to unite their efforts. Later that year the railroad published The Great West Illustrated in a Series of Photographic Views across the Continent, including fifty of his prints. Russell subsequently returned permanently to New York, where he photographed for newspapers and other periodicals.

Subjects: Art.

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