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Carleton E. Watkins (November 11, 1829 – June 23, 1916) was a photographer in 19th-century California. He captured a series of conservation photographs of the Yosemite Valley in the 1860s that significantly influenced the United States Congress' decision to establish the valley as a National Park in 1864. He also photographed scenes of Oregon.
Carleton Eugene Watkins was born in Oneonta, upstate New York. He went to San Francisco during the gold rush, arriving in 1851. He traveled to California with Oneontan Collis Huntington, who later became one of the owners of the Central Pacific Railroad, which helped Watkins later in his career.
Watkins' interest in photography began when he was an assistant in a San Francisco portrait studio; he started taking photographs of his own in 1861.
He became interested in landscape photography and soon started making photographs of California mining scenes and of Yosemite Valley. He experimented with several new photographic techniques, and eventually favored his "Mammoth Camera", which used large glass plate negatives (18 by 22 inches (46 cm × 56 cm)), and a stereographic camera. He became famous for his series of photographs and historic stereoviews of Yosemite Valley in the 1860s that helped influence Congress' decision to establish the valley as a National Park in 1864. Watkins also took a variety of images of California and Oregon in the 1870s and later. Watkins accompanied painter William Keith on at least one western expedition. Watkins' photographs through the Columbia River Gorge were memorable and the Oneonta Gorge and waterfalls were named in reference to his hometown.
However Watkins was not a good businessman. He spent lavishly on his San Francisco studio and went deeply into debt. His photographs were auctioned, following a business setback, resulting in his photographs being published without credit by I. W. Taber, the new owner. Watkins also had problems of his photographs being reprinted without permission by Eastern companies and with other photographers rephotographing the exact scenes Watkins photographed.
In 1879, Watkins married his 22-year-old assistant, Frances Sneade, with whom he had two children.
Watkins began anew with his "New Series," which included a variety of subjects and formats, mostly related to California. However, he remained poor and his family lived for a time in an abandoned railroad boxcar. His eyesight began to fail. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed Watkins's studio and negatives. In 1910 Watkins was committed to the Napa State Hospital for the Insane, where he died six years later.
- J. Paul Getty Museum, Carleton Watkins (In Focus) (1997)
- Peter E. Palmquist, Carleton E. Watkins: photographer of the American West (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1983)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Carleton E. Watkins.|
- Carleton Watkins - 19th Century California Photographer
- The Stereoviews of Carleton Watkins
- Carleton Watkins Photographs at the Getty Museum
- Early Watkins Yosemite Photographs
- Watkins photographs in Josiah Whitney, The Yosemite Book (1869)
- Carleton Watkins: The Art of Perception National Gallery of Art. Includes a timeline.
- Mammoth Plate Photographs of Yosemite Valley, 1861-1881 and Stereo Views of the West, ca. 1865-ca. 1880, The Bancroft Library (several other Watkins photo collections also available through the Online Archive of California)
- Carleton E. Watkins Photographs in online exhibit at Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology
- Mammoth Plate Photographs of the North American West by Watkins from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University
- Carleton Watkins Interior Views of Anaconda Mines (Butte, MT)Digital Collection of Photographs from the University of Idaho Library Digital Collections