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Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829–1916)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

American photographer. He migrated to San Francisco in the early 1850s in the wake of the gold rush. In 1854 Watkins met the daguerreotypist Robert Vance (1825–76), who hired him as a camera operator. Watkins opened his own studio in 1858 and began travelling to photograph the American West. Using a mammoth-plate camera (some views measuring as much as 560×710 mm), he photographed in Yosemite Valley from 1861 (e.g. Panoramic View of the Yosemite Valley, c. 1865; Washington, DC, Lib. Congr.)

These transcendental views were praised in the early photographic journals by many writers, including Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–94), and influenced the US Congress to make the Valley a national park. By making purposefully artistic images, Watkins became one of the best-known landscape photographers, with an international reputation.

For three decades Watkins was a very successful commercial photographer, working for government-sponsored geological surveys and for industrial clients including, Las Mariposas Mines and the Central and Southern Pacific Railroads. Watkins used the commissions to travel and to produce views of landscapes in Oregon (1868), Utah (1873), Nevada (1876), Southern California and Arizona (1880), the Pacific Northwest (1882–3) and Idaho and Montana (1884–5). All of these trips yielded series of photographs sold through Watkins’s San Francisco studio. He sent the best examples to exhibitions across the USA and Europe, winning prizes and maintaining a strong reputation until his eyesight began to fail in 1892. In 1906 all his negatives were lost in the San Francisco earthquake fire.

Sheryl Conkelton
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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