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collections > permanent collections > photographs > carleton e. watkins

Carleton E. Watkins
(American, 1829-1916)
Echo City, U.P.R.R. from Witches Rocks, Utah, 1870
Vintage albumen print, 5” x 6 1/4” (oval)
Gift of Steven and Rochelle Wilson (97.164)

Carleton E. Watkins is noted for his awe-inspiring photographs of the American West.  In images such as Echo City, U.P.R.R. from Witches Rocks, Utah, Watkins sought out landscape subjects that were radically different from what his audiences were familiar with.  This was a common strategy among western explorer-photographers, and the Witches (or Witch) Rocks were photographed by several others, including William H. Jackson, Timothy O’Sullivan, A. J. Russell, and Charles Savage.  Located in Utah along the line of the Union Pacific Railroad, the Witches Rocks are one of a number of distinctive geological formations in the Echo Canyon area.  They acquired their name due to their expressively eroded forms.

Watkins, born in Oneonta, New York, traveled to California to seek his fortune during the Gold Rush.  Settling in San Francisco, he learned photography from daguerreotypist Robert Vance.  After serving for several years as Vance’s assistant, Watkins in 1858 opened his own studio.  In 1861, he visited the recently discovered Yosemite Valley, which afterwards became one of his major subjects.  The high quality of his landscape photographs led to a number of assignments with government and railroad surveys as well as prizes won in major exhibitions.  By the 1890s, however, Watkins’ eyesight had begun to fail, and his output decreased.  Much of the artist’s life’s work was later destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.