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Chapter Twenty. Rich Crevices of Inquiry: Mining and Environmental History

Katherine G. Morrissey


Subject History » Environmental History
Study of History » Historiography

Place Americas » Northern America

Period 1000 - 1999

Key-Topics natural law, nature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405156653.2010.00022.x


Extract

Master nineteenth-century photographer Carleton Watkins is arguably best known for his classic images of Western landscapes. Watkins produced some of the earliest photographs of Yosemite, striking images that helped shape an aesthetic appreciation of the glaciated valley. Western US and environmental historians are likely familiar with the story often told about those particular photographs, the thirty taken with a new mammoth-plate camera, as well as the hundred or so stereographs. Exhibited in New York, the mammoth prints attracted wide attention and, along with the stereograph sets, influenced the 1864 legislation to set aside Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove as a California state park – a precursor to the national parks movement. These landscape photographs, however, are only one part of Watkins’ portfolio. As a commercial photographer, he also employed his majestic skills in other venues. On commissions from railroads, entrepreneurs, and resource developers, he documented the ongoing industrial transformation of that very same Western natural environment. Although we might consider industrial photographs and landscape photographs as two distinct genres, for Watkins, as for many of his nineteenth-century counterparts, they were closely linked. In fact, Watkins had been engaged in seeing the Western environment from a mining perspective ever since his arrival in California. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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