Carleton E. Watkins

American (Oneonta, New York, 1829 - 1916, Imola, California)

Carleton E. Watkins came to California around 1851 from the small New York town of Oneonta, one of a hundred thousand hopeful young men migrating west that year in search of Gold Rush fortune. In the boomtown of San Francisco, he fell into photography by chance when asked by a local daguerreotypist to stand in for a missing employee. A natural adept, he soon established his own business fabricating outdoor photographs for land-dispute cases and mining interests.

After his first photographic expedition to Yosemite in the summer of 1861, Watkins's name was made, and for the nearly half a century that followed he defied the vicissitudes of fortune and commerce to create what are surely the finest American landscape photographs of the 19th century. In wide-ranging travels across the length and breadth of the frontier West, Watkins energetically balanced a practical need to characterize the land before him with his craftsman's pride in a picture plumbed and mitred to perfection.

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