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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Carleton E. Watkins

Born: Carleton Eugene Watkins 
Other: C.E. Watkins 
Other: Carleton Watkins 
Dates:  1829, 11 November - 1916, 23 June
Born:  US, NY, Oneonta
Active:  US
American landscape photographer whose images helped convince the US Congress that Yosemite Valley should be made into a national park.
A Catalog Raisonne of his approximately 1,300 plus mammoth plates has been published by the Getty (2011). 
Stereographs project 
Business locations 
San Francisco, CA, US 
[5-9] *[Carleton E. Watkins]; "Photographer and Publisher"; "Portrait & Landscape Artist"; Yosemite Art Gallery; Issued several series: "Watkin's New Series, Yosemite and Pacific Coast"; "Pacific Coast Series"; "Views on the C.P R.R.", after its completion; genre, CA views; Yosemite views his specialty; etc.; $1.50/dozen. Started at Vance's San Jose Gallery making dags/CDVs, 51; opened his own gallery 58 or 59; could not make the payments so gallery was auctioned and bought by I.W. Tabor, who put his name over all of Watkins views; he had to retake many, calling them New Series; most of his views destroyed in SF earthquake and fire; B. 29, D. 16 blind and destitute; active 57-90. For more info. on him see Charles B. Turrill "An Early Califonia Photographer: C.E. Watkins," News Notes of California Libraries 13(1918):32; Ralph Anderson "Carleton E. Watkins" Pioneer Photographer of the Pacific Coast" Yosemite Nature Notes 32(1953):35. 
T.K. Treadwell & William C. Darrah (Compiled by), Wolfgang, Sell (Updated by), 11/28/2003, Photographers of the United States of America, (National Stereoscopic Association)
Credit: National Stereoscopic Association with corrections and additions by Alan Griffiths and others.
NOTE: You are probably here because you have a stereograph to identify. Please email good quality copies of the front and back to so we can create reference collections for all.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Carleton E. Watkins
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

Carleton E. Watkins was the foremost American landscape photographer of his day. He is best remembered for his majestic images of the American West, which he took using a 'mammoth-plate' camera that held glass negatives the same size as this print. This photograph, and others taken by Watkins, helped persuade the US Congress to make the Yosemite Valley a national park. 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

Further research

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Carleton E. Watkins
B 3542. Primitive Mining. the Rocker. Calaveras Co., Cal. 
[New Boudoir Series] 
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

Exhibitions on this website

ThumbnailCarleton Watkins - Spring Valley Water Works 
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Visual indexes

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Supplemental information


Carleton E. Watkins
American, 1829-1916

Sometime between 1849 and 1851, Watkins left his home in New York state for the California gold fields. In 1854 he worked as an operator for Robert H. Vance's daguerrean gallery in San Francisco where he first learned the daguerreotype process. After learning the collodion process in 1858, Watkins opened his own gallery called the Watkin's Yosemite Art Gallery. He made several trips to Yosemite Valley and to the Northwest and Southwest, and by 1867 he was considered to be one of the best of the California landscape photographers.
Watkins won many medals over the years and he was especially known for his mammoth-plate landscape views of Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove. His large 16"x20" photographs capture the sublime beauty of the west with remarkable detail. Over his 50 year career he also took many photographs of western cities, mining camps, orchards and ranches. He left us with an amazing and large body of photographs that are not only remarkable for stunning compositions, but also for a sense of history that is only possible through a photograph. In 1906 his gallery and most of his work was destroyed by the great San Francisco earthquake. Fortunately he sold his photographs to tourists and collectors during his life time and his work is well represented in smaller formats such as stereo cards and cabinet cards. His larger mammoth plates are harder to find. No more than 20 prints of any one mammoth plate negative are known to exist. His photographs can be found in most major museums.
For more information see:
Carleton Watkins: The Art of Perception. Douglas R. Nickel, Maria Morris Hambourg. 1999. Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Carleton E. Watkins: Photographer of the American West. Peter Palmquist & Martha A. Sandweis, 1983. The Amon Carter Museum.
Carleton E. Watkins: Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon. James Alinder, David Featherstone, Russ Anderson. 1979. The Friends of Photography.
Carleton Watkins: Photographer. Thomas Weston Fels. 1983. Williams College / Clark Art Institute.
A Kern County Diary: The Forgotten Photographs of Carleton E. Watkins, 1881-1888. Richard Steven Street. 1983. Kern County Museum.
The Early Pacific Coast Photographs of Carleton E. Watkins. J. W. Johnson. 1960. University of California, Berkeley.
Pionere der Landschaftsphotographie: Gustave Le Gray, Carleton E. Watkins. 1993. J. Paul Getty Museum.
Carleton E. Watkins, Photographer, 1861-1874. Peter E. Palmquist. 1989. Bedford Arts.
Watkins to Weston: 101 Years of California Photography, 1849-1950. 1992. Roberts Rinehearts Publishers.
[Contributed by Lee Gallery] 

Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.] Go to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography. Go to website

Internet resources

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Bancroft Library (Online Archive of California) 
Check out the search systems - they have particularly good material on-line by Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), Isaiah West Taber (1830-1912) and Carleton Watkins (1829-1916). 
The Stereoviews of Carleton Watkins ... 
A fascinating collection of material on one of the great photographers of the American West - Carleton Watkins (1829-1916). 
Carleton E. Watkins - Stereograph catalog ... 
Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum ( 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.546-547 
• Weaver, Mike (ed.) 1989 The Art of Photography 1839-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) p.469-470 [This exhibition catalogue is for the travelling exhibition that went to Houston, Canberra and London in 1989.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.265 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.92, 96 
• Naef, Weston 2004 Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) [For this photographer there is a description and three sample photographs from the Getty collection. p.56-59] 
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Carleton E. Watkins are included in this classic history.] 
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.20 [Analyzes a single photograph by Carleton E. Watkins.] 


Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 

In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Carleton E. Watkins was represented in 81 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
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