Carleton E. Watkins
Carleton Watkins is the consummate photographer of the American West, best remembered for his large-format photographs of Yosemite and other natural wonders that captured the grandeur of the West. At age twenty, Watkins left New York to make his fortune in California. After working as a daguerrotype operator in San Jose, in 1858 he established his own practice photographing mining operations and land claims. Watkins went on his first expedition to Yosemite in 1861, creating thirty mammoth plates (18 x 22 in.) and 100 stereograph views that immediately earned him esteem as one of the most artistically and technically advanced practitioners of the medium. During the next two decades, Carleton Watkins created some of the finest American landscape photographs of the 19th century, combining a keen sense of pictorial structure with a mastery of the difficult wet-plate negative process, and producing prints with clarity and detail that was unmatched by any of his contemporaries. Watkins 1963 album of the Yosemite photographs were among the first images of the valley seen on the east coast, and it was partly on their strength that President Lincoln signed a 1864 bill that paved the way for the National Parks system. In 1865, Watkins became official photographer for the California State Geological Survey, and he opened his own Yosemite Art Gallery in San Francisco in 1871. The extraordinary body of work produced by Watkins between 1858 and 1891—including photographs of San Francisco and the Bay Area, Mendicino, the Columbia River, the Pacific coast— constitutes one of the longest and most productive careers in nineteenth-century American photography.