Carleton Watkins

Dates1829 - 1916
RolesPhotographer, Publisher, Daguerreotypist, Ambrotypist
BornOneonta, New York, United States
DiedNapa, California, United States

At twenty, Carleton Watkins headed out to California to make his fortune. After working as a daguerreotype operator in San Jose, he established his own practice and soon made his first visit to the Yosemite Valley. There he made thirty mammoth plate and one hundred stereograph views that were among the first photographs of Yosemite seen in the East. Partly on the strength of Watkins's photographs, President Abraham Lincoln signed the 1864 bill that declared the valley inviolable, thus paving the way for the National Parks system.

In 1865 Watkins became official photographer for the California State Geological Survey. He opened his own Yosemite Art Gallery in San Francisco two years later. The walls were lined with 18 x 22-inch prints in black walnut frames with gilt-edged mats. Such elegant presentation did not come cheap, and Watkins was accused of charging exorbitant prices. A poor businessman, he declared bankruptcy in 1874 and his negatives and gallery were sold to photographer Isaiah Taber, who began to publish Watkins's images under his own name. Watkins, however, continued to photograph, and seven years later became manager of the Yosemite Art Gallery, then under different ownership. The San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed the contents of his studio, which he had intended to preserve at Stanford University.