Carleton E. Watkins: Recent Acquisitions

Yosemite Valley No. I, ca. 1865-66
mammoth-plate albumen print, 16-3/8 x 20-5/8 inches (image & sheet) 21-13/16 x 27-7/8 inches (mount)

Providing a historical context for Richard Misrach’s large-format work concurrently on view, Fraenkel Gallery is pleased to present a group of remarkable recent acquisitions by the nineteenth-century photographer CARLETON WATKINS. The works will be on view from May 2 through June 29, 2002.

The exhibition will include an exceptionally rare four-part panorama of San Francisco, dated circa 1879. Watkins’ obsessively detailed images persuasively convey the visual texture of the rapidly expanding city. The exhibition will also include several mammoth-plate photographs from Watkins’ first trip to Yosemite in 1861, and a dramatic view of people on the ferry boat “Solano,” as it readies to depart the dock in Pt. Costa, circa 1876.

Carleton Watkins is generally viewed as the most important American photographer of the nineteenth century.  The images he produced helped shape Americans’ understanding of the then-unfamiliar landscape of the American West, to such an extent that they contributed to the establishment of the national parks system. Watkins often hauled his cameras, tripods, darktents, glass plates and chemicals through difficult terrain and into treacherous situations, making exposures up to one hour long. What resulted were photographs of consummate craftsmanship that illuminated Watkins’ passion for his subject and the particular intelligence he brought to it.

Carleton Watkins spent the majority of his working years in San Francisco. His “Yosemite Gallery”, located on Montgomery Street, first presented his photographs of the West to the public. Much of his life’s work, including all of his original glass negatives, was destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906.

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