Notes: An imperial plate (8-1/2 by 12-1/2 inches) image of the El Capitan, one of the best-known rock formations in the Yosemite Valley. Watkins made at least five mammoth-plate images from this vantage point over a period of at least 20 years.
Watkins took this image between 1878 and 1881. It may have been printed by Isaiah Taber, after Taber took over Watkins's bankrupt photo studio. However, it does not have the Taber imprint but the mount matches another Yosemite image with Taber's logo in the negative.
This view is very similar to one of Watkins's mammoth-plate images (Naef and Hult-Lewis, Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs, no. 136) and was almost certainly taken at the same time. It is easily distinguishable from images taken at another time because this image and the corresponding mammoth-plate view have a white reflection of the mountain in the water in the foreground. In addition to the albumen print offered here, another example of this imperial plate image is in the Yosemite Museum, on a larger mount.
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. The 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.
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, 8-1/16 by 12-1/2 on a 12-11/16 by 8-11/16 mount. Known example, Yosemite Museum (YOSE-16466); Photographs of Carleton Watkins website id 1007352.
Edition + Condition: Albumen print with medium contrast and tonal range; small chip missing from upper edge. This photograph is mounted on thick board (1/8 inch) with beveled and gilt edges. The mount is near fine. The number 63 is written in blue ink on the back of the mount.
A scarce Watkins image of one of his most popular subjects.
Publication: [San Francisco]: [Probably Taber Photo], [ca. 1880s].
Item No: #361979