Carleton E. Watkins (U.S., 1829-1916): Mirror Lake, Yosemite

Albumen print, 8 x 12 inches, 1866

A perfectly symmetrical composition, save for the branches included in the right foreground. This detail heightens the three-dimensional quality of the photograph, and also serves to anchor the image visually--helping the viewer to sort foreground from background, reflection from horizon.

Watkins made this image with a camera fitted for wet-plate negatives, 9-1/2 x 13 inches. During his 1866 expedition into the Yosemite Valley, he also made negatives in three other formats: mammoth plates (18x 22 inches), stereoscopic views, and full-plates (6.5 x 8.5 inches) intended for publication in The Yosemite Book. Watkins was in Yosemite with a California state geological party, led in the field by Clarence King.

With four cameras, field darkroom equipment, and fragile glass plates to transport along rugged trails, Watkins needed to work with assistants. Peter Palmquist, in Carleton E. Watkins: Photographer of the American West [University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque: 1983] suggests that one of the assistants on this trip may have been George Fiske, who later became a great photographer of Yosemite in his own right.


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