USA - west coast
Carleton E. Watkins
Born in Oneonta, New York, Carleton Watkins traveled
west to California in the early 1850s, shortly after
the gold rush. He learned photography in 1854 from Robert
Vance, one of the earliest and best of San Francisco's
daguerreotypists. Vance's landscape photography, unusually
skilled for the time, may have influenced Watkins's work.
Watkins was among the first photographers in the Yosemite
valley, shooting there in 1861, and his mammoth-plate
landscape photographs of the area are believed to have
contributed to Yosemite's early designation as a national
park. His Yosemite Art Gallery opened in San Francisco
in 1867, but unlike most photographers of the time, Watkins
is not known to have done much portrait work. His subjects
included topographical, scenic, survey, agricultural,
and urban views of California and surrounding states,
including Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.
his friendship with railroad magnate Collis Huntington,
Watkins photographed along railway lines and was able
to reach distant sites. Huntington later bought him the
farm where he retired. Watkins's landscapes were well
received; he was awarded an international medal at the
Paris Exposition (1867) and a medal of progress at the
Vienna International Exposition (1873).
The numerous commissions and the work produced for the
public market by Watkins combine clarity of vision with
technical expertise. His work set the standard for subsequent
photographers of western views, such as William Henry
Jackson, Timothy O'Sullivan, and John K. Hillers. Although
his life was difficult and his business sense lacking,
his photographic efforts were protracted and indefatigable.
Watkins's negatives were destroyed in the San Francisco
earthquake and fire of 1906. He died several years later
blind and insane. T.W.F.
ref: Cleveland Museum of Art