leanor Foa Dienstag

Exquisite Early Photographs of Yosemite

Back to articles

Reproductions on this site – or anywhere else – cannot do justice to the 36 photographs of Yosemite Valley created by self-taught photographer – who built his own camera – Carlton Watkins (1829 – 1916). They must be seen in person to totally appreciate their delicate and powerful beauty.

El CapitainWatkins moved to California from upstate New York in 1849 and became a master of the wet-collodion process, which give his prints such astonishing clarity and superb detail. His views of Yosemite required dangerous travel up precipitous trails thousands of feet high with a dozen mules carrying about 2,000 pounds of equipment, including his oversize camera, large glass plates and flammable chemicals.

Mirror LakeWatkins astonished the world of photography with his “mammoth” prints, when they were first shown in 1861. In 1867, the images of Yosemite he sent to the Exposition International in Paris in 1867 (marked by an asterik in the Exhibition), won first prize for photographic landscapes. His work so impressed President Abraham Lincoln that in 1864, while the Civil War was still raging, he declared the Yosemite Valley depicted in these images “inviolate,” both protecting it from ruin and creating a preservation model for the country’s National Park System.

This exceptional little exhibition, primarily drawn from the Special Collections Library at Stanford University – augmented by pieces from the Met’s Collection – and organized by the Met’s Curator of Photography, Jeff L. Rosenheim, is a jewel.

Don’t miss it.

And don’t miss the card mounted stereoscopic scene of Yosemite Valley from the Mariposa Trail, also created by Watkins, while you are there. It’s breathtaking.

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829–1916)
Piwyac, the Vernal Fall, Yosemite, 300 feet
1861
Albumen silver print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829–1916)
Mirror Lake, Yosemite
1865–66
Albumen silver print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829–1916)
Tutocanula, 3600 ft., El Capitan, Yosemite
1861
Albumen silver print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

Yosemite Photographed in the 1860s by Carleton Watkins
Metropolitan Museum of Art
November 3rd – February 1, 2015

 



Contact me at:
Telephone 212-879-1542
E-mail at efoa@usa.net