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Carleton E. Watkins
Selected images of Yosemite
17 x 20 3/8 in (43 x 51.7 cm)
Christie's - New York
Christies - NY (Sale 1983: Lot 0212 - Oct 18, 2007)
20 mammoth plate albumen prints each signed in ink and the majority titled in pencil (on the mount) each approximately 17 x 20 3/8in. (43 x 51.7cm.) or the reverse (20)
Historic Park-McCullough, located in North Bennington, Vermont, is one of the finest and best preserved Victorian Houses in the United States. Designed by Henry Dudley, the 35-room mansion was built in 1864-65 by attorney and entrepreneur Trenor Park (1823-1882) who amassed a considerable fortune in a number of ventures in California, including railroads and mining. The house has been owned by a non-profit organization, The Park-McCullough House Association since 1968.
It seems likely that Trenor Park helped make possible Carleton Watkins' 1861 trip to Yosemite by paying for the rental of pack animals, essential supplies and photographic materials. Evidence that the Park family accompanied Watkins on the journey is nicely shown by his stereoview of the family having an alfresco meal in a Yosemite valley (lot 213, illustrated.)
The journey to Yosemite was an arduous one, burdened with Watkins' photographic paraphernalia, including 100 mammoth glass plate negatives, each approximately 18 x 22 inches and weighing 4 lbs. The party traveled two days to their destination and finally made camp in front of the Yosemite Falls. There they remained for several days marveling at the grandeur of the scenery and Watkins' dedication to its capture in photographic form.
From this base, Watkins had to scout for appropriate locations to photograph, with his darkroom (a tent) within easy reach and often precariously erected on a treacherous slope or ledge. His negatives, the largest in the west at that time, demanded considerable technical skill and patience from the photographer. Watkins often worked in the pre-dawn light, with exposures lasting up to one hour, to avoid wind blowing dust around which would stick to the photographic emulsion and reduce overall image clarity by moving nearby leaves and branches.
During the trip, Watkins not only worked with mammoth plates, but also produced a large number of stereoscopic negatives. Although he considered large-format views to be of greater significance, the stereo format proved extremely successful aesthetically and commercially. When placed in a viewer, they occupied the entire field of vision, so that the illusion of reality was far greater than with a mammoth photograph. The stereo format was also far more cost-effective to produce and, requiring lighter equipment, was more easily transportable to the rugged locations Watkins favored.
Recognition for Watkins extraordinary early series of Yosemite images was mainly confined to his small circle of friends and patrons. In November 1861, Laura Hall Park wrote to her husband Trenor:
'Mr. Watkins is finishing up his pictures, says he will bring them up here [to San Francisco] when he gets them done (Palmquist, Carleton Watkins: Photographer of the American West, p.17)
During his first Yosemite trip, Carleton Watkins produced thirty mammoth and one hundred stereoscopic negatives. Christies is honored to present a significant portion of this early, rare and highly important group of images, 20 mammoth albumen prints and a group of 62 stereoscopic positives, acquired by Trenor Park directly from Watkins. Proceeds from the sale will be used to establish an essential endowment fund for Historic Park-McCullough, to safeguard its collection for future generations.