Imperial Plate Portrait of Galen Clark by Carleton Watkins
A 62. Section of the "Grizzly Giant," 33 feet diameter, Mariposa Grove, Cal. [Imperial Plate]
Notes: An imperial plate (8-1/2 by 12-1/2 inches) portrait of Galen Clark holding a rifle and standing in front of one of the first famous trees from the Yosemite area. Watkins took this image in 1865 or 1866, during one of his extended trips to Yosemite. It was printed by Isaiah Taber from the original negative, after Taber took over Watkins's bankrupt photo studio.
The Getty owns a copy of this image and it is very similar to one of Watkins's mammoth-plate images (Naef and Hult-Lewis, Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs, no. 104).
While it is generally known that Watkins regularly took his 18-by-22-inch mammoth glass-plate camera and a stereoview camera to Yosemite, the existence of imperial plate photographs suggests he took a third camera with him on his trips. Amy S. Doherty ("Carleton E. Watkins, Photographer: 1829-1916" in the Syracuse University Courier vol. 15, no. 4, 1978) proposed this idea based on an examination of a bound album of Watkins photographs held by the Syracuse University Library. Yhe idea has garnered little attention since. Watkins's imperial plate images of Yosemite correspond closely, but not identically, to known mammoth-plate images, strongly suggesting that they were made on the same day using a camera brought just for that purpose.
Watkins's intention for the imperial plate photographs is not known; they do not appear to have been a successful economic venture as relatively few photographic prints were ever made from the negatives.
Galen Clark was the first Anglo to visit the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and he was for decades the official guardian of the Yosemite Valley. Watkins made thousands of photographs in California and the West Coast and managed to go bankrupt in the process. In his day and for decades after, he was little regarded; since the 1970s, he has been recognized as one of the greatest 19th century photographers.
Albumen print, 12-3/8 by 7-31/32 inches (oblong) on a 12-11/16 by 8-11/16 mount. Known examples, Getty Museum (84.xm.493.3) and Yosemite Museum (YOSE-21868); Photographs of Carleton Watkins website id 1007374.
Edition + Condition: Albumen print with good contrast and tonal range; minor yellowing to the right quarter of the image. With Tabor's title and logo incorporated into the negative (as usual). This photograph is mounted on thick board (1/8 inch) with beveled and gilt edges. The mount has minor surface chipping to the lower edge, not affecting the image. There are a variety of notations on the back (verso) of the mount, including the number 45 in blue ink, probably denoting the 45th image in a sequence (other similar photographs acquired at the same time have similar numbers). A previous owner has also incorrectly attributed the photograph to H. Jackson.
A scarce Watkins image.
Publication: San Francisco: Taber Photo, [ca. 1880s].
Item No: #361977