Anne Darling Photography

Famous Landscape Photographers Part 2

Carleton Watkins (1829-1916)

One of the earliest of famous landscape photographers is Carleton Watkins who extensively photographed early San Francisco, Yosemite, Mendocino, New Almaden and the Sierra Nevada mining regions.

Carleton Watkins is also renowned for some of the earliest photographs of Southern California and the Pacific Northwest.


Self-portrait of Carleton Watkins (1883)

Watkins got caught up in the gold rush and moved to California in 1851 where his photographic career began with a commission to document the mines of the Mariposa estate, near the beautiful Yosemite valley, with the intention of attracting investors.

He went on to make eight expeditions to Yosemite and was commissioned to make photographs of the region in 1864 and 1865 for the California State Geological Survey. His photographs made a huge impact and painters journeyed to the Yosemite Valley, often accompanying geological surveys, to paint Yosemite with great reverence for their subject.

Yosemite Valley
Down the Valley from Union Point, Yosemite: One of a pair of stereoscopic views of the Yosemite valley, California by Carleton Watkins (Stereoscopic version below) Yosemite Valley
Stereoscopic views of the Yosemite valley, California: Photo by Carleton Watkins

Watkins photographs were printed for exhibition in large-scale format, 18 x 22 inches, large for their time and known as 'mammoth prints', and were presented in black walnut frames in his own gallery dedicated to the Yosemite pictures. Thirty of these photographs won a medal in the Universal Exhibition in Paris.

Yosemite Valley
The Sentinel, 3270 feet, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California: Photo by Carleton Watkins

He became famous as a result and was in great demand for prints. He also produced many stereographs which were popular with the American public at that time. His work was seen as representing a transition stage between the vanishing wilderness of a natural environment which was still pristine, and the encroachment of western civilisation. Watkins' photographs depicted a natural landscape abundant, seemingly limitless, and there to be exploited while at the same time it was a landscape of such spectacular proportions as to invoke veneration bordering on nature mysticism.

By the mid-1890's Watkins work was afftected by the decline of his eyesight and in 1906 his studio was destroyed in an earthquake along with the negatives of his life's work. He died in 1916, aged eighty-seven.

To read about the famous landscape photographer Fay Godwin (British), click the link or click on the following link to go to Part 1 of Famous Landscape Photographers which is all about the great photographer of the American West, William Henry Jackson.

Part 3 of Famous Landscape Photographers will include photographs and bios of Timothy H. O'Sullivan, Albert Sands Southworth and Joe Cornish. Coming soon!





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