Stream and trees with Half Dome in background, Yosemite Valley, Calif. by Carleton Watkins
8"x10" ($24) | 11"x14" ($60) | 16"x20" ($240) | 20"x24" ($600) | 30"x40" ($1,800)
Yosemite has always been a real stunner, and Carleton Watkins knew just how to capture its good side. Looking at our newest Watkins release, we’re first struck by the glossy surface of Merced River in the foreground, inflected by gentle ripples. The river draws our eyes dreamily to the center of the image, where the ridiculously scenic view soars above.
Catch that hazy monolith looming in the distance? That’s Half Dome. At the time Watkins shot this photograph circa 1865, Half Dome was still considered “perfectly inaccessible”—a sheer face flanked by three smooth granite sides, topping out 4,737 feet above the valley floor. It would be another 10 years until George G. Anderson conquered the summit, drilling the holes that would come to hold the cables of the popular route up the rock formation.
Yosemite National Park has provided a wellspring of photo fodder over the decades, but one could easily make the case that Watkins was the first artist to propel preservation of the park area into the public sphere. After all, Watkins' work played an instrumental role in the events that led to President Lincoln signing the Yosemite Grant of 1864—the first official U.S. federal land protection. Oh BTW, the peak to the left of Half Dome is literally named after our artist: that’s Mount Watkins, folks.
Watkins photographed this scene not far from Mirror Lake, years before Yosemite really came into its own as a popular tourist destination. If he were alive today, we imagine he’d be taken aback by the clear trails lining the park—he had to hoof it with fragile camera equipment and mules. He’d probably be shocked to find Yosemite Lodge, shuttle buses, and the visitor center just a short walk west. But above all, we think he’d be proud of the pivotal role he played in protecting this insanely picturesque place for years to come.
With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman + Team 20x200