Carleton Watkins, “Yosemite Valley, California” (1865–1866) (image courtesy the Getty Museum)

Tyler Green may be best known as the journalist and art writer behind the Modern Art Notes podcast, but for the last six years, he’s also been working on a major book about a photographer who helped establish the sublime visual record of the American West for viewers around the world.

In his new book, Carleton Watkins: Making the West American, Green writes a very readable story about a figure who blended art and science, helped establish photography as an art, and whose images helped galvanize a citizenry that would eventually establish a national park system around the country. Green managed all of this despite being faced with a researchers nightmare: Watkins’s archive was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

Then there’s the twist, as Green discusses a very personal connection to Watkins that he discovered in the midst of his research. It’s a fascinating tale that shows us history is often more present than we know.

A special thanks to Mark Pritchard of Warp Records for providing the music for this episode.

This, and more in the current episode of our weekly Art Movements podcast.

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Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

5 replies on “Carleton Watkins and Photography’s Romance with the American West”

  1. Uh, that Carleton Watkins photo at the top of the post is not a Carleton Watkins. The giveaway: It’s got clouds. Tyler Green’s book explains in detail.

    To quote my Magic 8 Ball: Your vision is cloudy.

      1. Watkins’ Yosemite photographs were so admired that, especially after he lost control of many glass plate negatives, others reprinted them, often double-printing to add corny, greeting card clouds to make them more romantic and, presumably, saleable. This appears to be one of those. (You should edit Wikipedia’s entry too.)

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