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Born in upstate New York in 1829, Carleton Watkins ventured west in 1848 to strike it rich. Instead of prospecting for gold, Watkins acquired a talent for photography. Through the 1860s and 1870s, Watkins charted the remote American West, and masterfully captured the vast scale and spirit of the Pacific Northwest. Among his most iconic photographs are the dramatic waterfalls, peaks, and valleys of Yosemite Valley. So moving were these images of the Valley that they were instrumental in convincing the 38th U.S. Congress and President Abraham Lincoln to pass the Yosemite Act of 1864, the first official step toward preserving the region and creating a blueprint for America's National Park System.
Carleton Watkins: The Stanford Albums presents over 150 images from three of Watkins's albumsPhotographs of the Yosemite Valley (1861 and 1865-66), Photographs of the Pacific Coast (1862-76), and Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon (1867 and 1870)from the Stanford University Libraries Special Collections. These images represent the definitive collection of Watkins's highest achievements. In addition to the complete albums, the book also features fifteen essays by renowned scholars of the American West, including David M. Kennedy, Alexander Nemerov, and Richard White. Carleton Watkins: The Stanford Albums accompanies an ambitious exhibition of the same name, on view at the Cantor Arts Center from April through August 2014.
June 2014 marks the 150th anniversary of the congressional act that preserved Yosemite Valley and launched the national park system in the United States. These photographsfeats of innovation and technology at the dawn of photographyevince the beauty, power, and persuasiveness of the great American landscape.