Carleton E. Watkins
May 29, 2011 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Carleton Watkins (1829-1916) was an early western photographer, notable for his views of San Francisco and Yosemite. Watkins made his images with a custom built "Mammoth" 18x22" glass plate camera.

Watkins also shot thousands of stereoviews.

Watkins' photos were used to help illustrate the writings of John Muir, arguing for the preservation of Yosemite, eventually resulting in its status as a National Park.

In his 60s, Watkins began to go blind. His financials waned and was forced to live in a boxcar with his family. He died in an insane asylum in 1916 — tens years after the Great San Francisco Earthquake destroyed all his negatives.

You can find his images online at the Library of Congress (with high quality downloads). Cathedral Rocks, with lakes and trees. El Capitan. El Capitan mirror view.

Chronology of his life.
posted by starman (7 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
What a story. Brings to mind George R. Lawrence and his Giant Camera.
posted by fake at 3:35 PM on May 29, 2011

I was just in Yosemite and once again powerfully struck by such a sense of gratitude that that magnificent place was set aside to be preserved and protected. it's so incredibly beautiful and I'd not heard of this man, to whom I owe a lot of thanks.

the waterfalls are INSANE right now! go, if you can :)
posted by supermedusa at 3:49 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

These amazing photos were taken in the 19th century; aren't they in the public domain by now? The website says © 2003-2005 and that:
Items may be protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Usage of some items may also be subject to additional restrictions imposed by the copyright owner and/or the repository/image owner. Thus transmission or reproduction of more than a single research or teaching copy requires the permission of the copyright owner and/or the repository/image owner.
posted by autopilot at 6:26 PM on May 29, 2011

Lots to read here. I love this kind of stuff. I know posts like this don't get a lot of comments, so thanks!
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:24 PM on May 29, 2011

Ok, not as big as Lawrence's camera, but the giant Polaroid camera still deserves a mention in any thread about epic cameras.
posted by GIFtheory at 10:58 PM on May 29, 2011

Great post – there are also lots of high-resolution versions of Watkins's pictures on Wikimedia Commons.
posted by mattn at 1:49 AM on May 30, 2011

autopilot- That's curious. I would think it's in the public domain. Maybe it refers to the original content? Or it was just pasted from another website?

mattn- Nice find!
posted by starman at 9:46 AM on May 30, 2011

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