Yosemite National Park turns 125 this year, and what better way to celebrate than with some stunning art? The park's history is deeply intertwined with photography—it was in part due to the photographer below that the park was created and placed under federal protection. Take in the majesty of Yosemite Valley and North Dome, Yosemite as they were first seen through the lens of Carleton Watkins…
Carleton Watkins was a gold-digger—literally. He grew up in upstate New York, but moved to San Francisco with dreams of striking it rich by mining gold. When that failed, he worked as a bookstore clerk near the studio of daguerreotypist Robert Vance. Vance taught Watkins the basics of photography, allowing him to shoot clients in his studio. Watkins fell in love with the art form and in 1861, took the trip that changed his entire career.
Just a few years before, the Yosemite Valley had experienced its first “tourists”: it had been occupied by America's first nation for a few thousand years, but was now being publicized and popularized as a destination spot. It was to this new paradise that Watkins traveled. He brought with him his mammoth-plate camera, large glass plates, his stereoscopic camera, and flammable processing chemicals. All in all, it came to a staggering 2,000 pounds of equipment, resting on the back of a dozen mules Watkins had to shepherd through the valley.
With all that taken into account, we count ourselves extremely lucky that these images survived the trail and exist for us today! It’s amazing to take in the early Yosemite Valley in such depth and clarity. This is partly possible because of Watkins’ process—he mastered the very difficult wet-collodion technique using 18”x22” glass plates (for reference, the plate is about the size of 28 iPhones), which give the negatives great detail. Yosemite Valley and North Dome, Yosemite make you feel as though you could step into the image and find yourself in the midst of grandiose, untouched nature.
These images took our breath away when we first viewed them, so we can’t imagine what it must have been like to see them in the 1860s! Watkins’ work was instrumental in drawing attention to the beauty of the Yosemite Valley, leading President Lincoln to sign the 1864 Yosemite Grant, setting the land aside for protection by the federal government. Yosemite National Park wasn’t officially established until 1890, but we love that art had such a powerful impact on its preservation and creation!
What are you waiting for? Bring the power and majesty of Carleton Watkins’ Yosemite into your home...
With art for everyone,