Eadweard Muybridge
Pi-Wi-Ack (Shower of Stars), Vernal Fall, 400 Feet, Valley of Yosemite, 1872

Eadweard Muybridge is one of many photographers who documented the American West at the end of the 19th century. Photography played a key role in the development of the region and its influence on American identity. In the 1860s, Muybridge, Carleton Watkins, and Charles Leander Weed competed to produce awe-inspiring photographs of Yosemite Valley, a site that symbolized the promise of the frontier. Their pictures served both to generate support for the foundation of national parks and to satisfy a growing audience for photographic prints.

This photograph by Muybridge shows Yosemite’s Vernal Falls emerging from a sheer cliff face. There is no visible horizon and the pictorial space is quite flat, resulting in a very modern-looking image. Because of the long exposure time, the waterfall appears as a light-filled volume, a representation of dimensional space occupied through time. In contrast to the rock-solid cliffs, water is portrayed here within a different aesthetic framework; its flow is not so much documented as poetically evoked.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Pi-Wi-Ack (Shower of Stars), Vernal Fall, 400 Feet, Valley of Yosemite
Artist name
Eadweard Muybridge
Date created
albumen print
21 1/2 × 17 in. (54.6 × 43.2 cm)
Date acquired
Collection SFMOMA
Accessions Committee Fund purchase and gift of Jeffrey Fraenkel and Frish Brandt
Permanent URL
Artwork status
Not on view at this time.

Photographer Trevor Paglen explains the legacy of photography in the American West and its close ties to surveillance and the U.S. Department of War.

Other Works by Eadweard Muybridge

See other works by Eadweard Muybridge

Please note that artwork locations are subject to change, and not all works are on view at all times. If you are planning a visit to SFMOMA to see a specific work of art, we suggest you contact us at collections@sfmoma.org to confirm it will be on view.

Only a portion of SFMOMA's collection is currently online, and the information presented here is subject to revision. Please contact us at collections@sfmoma.org to verify collection holdings and artwork information. If you are interested in receiving a high resolution image of an artwork for educational, scholarly, or publication purposes, please contact us at copyright@sfmoma.org.

This resource is for educational use and its contents may not be reproduced without permission. Please review our Terms of Use for more information.