Our Art / Carleton Watkins

Carleton Watkins

Carleton Watkins

At the age of twenty, Watkins (1829–1916) traveled to California in search of gold. Though unsuccessful in this venture, he taught himself the new medium of photography and established his reputation as an iconic photographer of the American West.

Watkins became famous for lugging around a 75 pound large-format camera, along with hundreds of pounds of glass and chemicals, to remote and spectacular locations. He used new chemical techniques to develop photographs on the spot, in a tent that served as a mobile darkroom. Amidst these challenging conditions, Watkins created stunning images with technical excellence and unparalleled artistic perspective and impeccable attention to detail. His photographs did more than just capture the national park, it was partly due to the artistry and rugged beauty of these photographs that President Lincoln signed a bill establishing Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove as protected wilderness areas. It was the first time in U.S. history that land was designated for public use and preservation, and is viewed by many as the birth of the national parks system.