Cypress Point, Monterey
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Cypress Point can be found along 17 Mile Drive, the famously picturesque path that hugs the coast in Monterey County, California. The long exposure time Carleton Watkins used in this image makes the ocean seem dreamily calm; in reality, it regularly crashes against the jagged rocks of the shore. The tree seen here is a Monterey Cypress, or cupressus macrocarpa. It grows naturally in only two small spots on the Monterey peninsula: the granite headlands of Point Lobos, and Cypress Point. These spots are what’s left of what was once a very large forest on the west coast.
Watkins worked with a mammoth-plate camera and 18"x22" glass plates, using the wet-collodion technique to create rich, detailed images. In addition to making stunning images of Yosemite, which led President Lincoln to sign the Yosemite Grant in 1864, Watkins photographed the cities and coasts of California, where he lived and worked from the 1850s until his death in 1916.
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Watkins grew up in upstate New York, but moved to San Francisco with dreams of striking gold. When that venture failed, he worked briefly in delivery and as a bookstore clerk. The bookstore was close to the studio of daguerreotypist Robert Vance, who taught Watkins the basics of photography. With this new skill, Watkins traveled to the Yosemite Valley and made both mammoth-plate images and stereoscopic images. These were some of the first photographs of Yosemite ever seen in the East, eventually capturing the attention of the capitol. President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant in 1864, setting aside the land for federal protection.
Watkins continued to shoot in Yosemite for the California Geological Survey, later opening his own gallery just for his award-winning Yosemite images. Though he suffered a series of unfortunate events that led to the loss of his sight and many of his negatives, his images continue to live on.
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