Stream and trees with Half Dome in background, Yosemite Valley, Calif.

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Artist Statement

 

People had lived in the Yosemite Valley for a few thousand years before the area experienced its first "tourists": entrepreneur James Mason Hutchings and artist Thomas Ayres. The two created a publicity campaign proclaiming Yosemite to be a paradise. As the valley became the new travel destination, it also brought in many artists, including Carleton Watkins.

Watkins worked with a mammoth-plate camera and 18"x22" glass plates, using the wet-collodion technique to create rich, detailed images. His equipment load came out to around two thousand pounds, all resting on the backs of a dozen mules. It is truly a miracle these images survived the trip! His photographs of Yosemite were the first seen back East. The power of these majestic landscapes were a major influence on President Lincoln, who signed the Yosemite Grant in 1864, placing the Yosemite Valley under federal protection (and ultimately paving the way for the National Parks Service).

 

Carleton Watkins | See All Editions

 

Carleton Watkins is perhaps the best known early western photographer. Watkins worked with a mammoth-plate camera, using the wet-collodion technique to produce strikingly detailed images. His work of the Yosemite Valley was instrumental in the creation of the Yosemite Grant and later the National Parks Service.

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.

Vintage Editions | See All Editions

 

For our Vintage Editions series, our curators scour historical archives for both timeless classics and heretofore unseen gems. These images come back to life as exhibition-quality prints now available to everyone. As a bonus, purchasing equals patronage: sales from Vintage Editions prints go towards supporting our growing roster of artists.