Pictorial Collection Overview
Scope and Content
Title: California Cornerstones: Selected Images from The Bancroft Library Pictorial Collection
Berkeley, California 94720-6000
Shelf location: For current information on the location of
these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Collection is available for use.
Digital Representation Available
Digital representations of selected original pictorial materials are available in the
list of materials below. Digital image files were prepared from selected Library
originals by the Library Photographic Service. Library originals were copied onto 35mm
color transparency film; the film was scanned and transferred to Kodak Photo CD (by
Custom Process); and the Photo CD files were color-corrected and saved in JFIF (JPEG)
format for use as viewing files.
Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to
publish photographs must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Pictorial Collections.
Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the
physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright
holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
Copyright restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials.
Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.
[Identification of item], California Cornerstones: Selected Images from The Bancroft
Library Pictorial Collection, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
California Cornerstones is a collection of significant historical images from The
Bancroft Library and provides a preview of recent technological developments and their
application in a series of Library research and development projects. These projects are
designed to solve problems involving access to and control of digital images and
information on electronic networks, such as the Internet.
California Cornerstones also serves as a showcase for a series of digital images that are
now available worldwide through electronic network technology. These images were selected
from the Pictorial Collection of The Bancroft Library to illustrate the entire span of
California's modern history, from exploration through early European settlement, to the
This is a sampling of the kinds of material that appear in a project called California
Heritage Digital Image Access Project, a large digital archive of important California
images that is part of an ambitious collaboration with other state archival institutions.
Through digital access projects, such as California Cornerstones, the University of
California, Berkeley Library is positioned to be the catalyst for other valuable project
Pictorial Collection Overview
The Bancroft Library, founded as a private historical research library in the late 1850s
by Hubert Howe Bancroft, was purchased by the Regents of the University of California in
1905 and moved the next year from San Francisco to Berkeley where it now functions
administratively as a branch of The Library, University of California, Berkeley. The
Bancroft Library is one of the largest libraries of manuscripts, rare books, and special
collections in the United States. Among its components are the Bancroft Collection of
Western Americana, the Rare Books Collections, Pictorial Collections, the Mark Twain
Papers and Project, the Regional Oral History Office, the History of Science and
Technology Program, and the University Archives. The Bancroft Library's holdings include
over 400,000 volumes, 32,000 linear feet of manuscripts, 3,500,000 photographs and other
pictorial materials, 67,000 microforms, and 21,000 maps. The Bancroft Library Pictorial
Collections, comprising an estimated 3.5 million items in a variety of media, documents
and illustrates the history of the settlement of California and the American West.
Scholars from all parts of the United States and the world make use of The Bancroft
Library Pictorial Collections for the rich documentation of local history, emphasizing
California and the West. In addition to important materials on aboriginal settlement, The
Bancroft Library holds papers and family pictures relating to thousands of settlers in
California and the American West, from the Spanish era to the present time (e.g., the
Vallejo and Cooper-Molera families, James Phelan, Earl Warren).
The Bancroft Library's pictorial documentation of early exploration is unparalleled and
includes unique, original drawings and paintings that were made by official expedition
artists accompanying the La Perouse Expedition (1769), the Malaspina Expedition (1791),
Vancouver's Expeditions (1792 et al.), the Langsdorf Expedition (1806), the Rezanov
Expedition (1816), and later American expeditions and surveys. The Bancroft Library
Pictorial Collections also contain paintings, drawings, photographs, and other visual
representations from the earliest recorded images to the present. The collection uniquely
document the history of western North America, particularly from the western plains
states to the Pacific Coast and from Panama to Alaska, with greatest emphasis on
California and Mexico.
The development of photography and the growth of the American West are chronologically
parallel, which allows the Pictorial Collections to provide a complete panorama of
settlement and expansion. Special emphasis is given to the California Gold Rush and
19th-century images of California transportation. Other major subject areas significantly
represented in the collections include Yosemite and other wilderness areas; mining in
California, Nevada and Alaska; the lumber industry; Native Americans in California; early
exploration; California Missions; the Monterey Peninsula; vacation and leisure
activities; major industrial projects (bridge and dam constructions, shipyards, etc.);
World War II in California; Japanese American relocation; Chinese Americans in
California; and immigrant labor. The Bancroft Library owns the first pictures ever made
of San Francisco, Monterey, and countless other locations along the Pacific coast and
Hawaii. One of Bancroft's greatest strengths in photography lies in the thousands of
nineteenth-century images of California cities and towns. In the collections are found
photographs by the famous, such as Eadweard Muybridge, C.E. Watkins, Edward Weston,
George Fiske, Arnold Genthe, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, and Ansel Adams, by
commercial photographers, such as San Francisco's Isaiah West Taber, and by hundreds of
lesser-known California photographers who are just now beginning to be documented. Also
of great historical and human interest are the thousands of photographs taken by amateur
photographers over the past 140 years which provide researchers with an extraordinary
insight into daily lives, personalities, and events.
Scope and Content
California Cornerstones is a selection of images from various collections in The Bancroft
Library. The images have been organized by provenance; that is, they have been grouped
around the individual or corporate body that created or collected the materials. Most
come from collections of photographs, such as the William C. Barry Collection or the
Frank B. Rodolph Collection. Some come from collections made up primarily of textual
records. These, like the Henry J. Kaiser papers or the Sierra Club records, are large
collections that include, in addition to photographs, materials such as correspondence,
reports, minutes of meetings, diaries, and published pamphlets. A number of the oldest
images have been reproduced from illustrations in published books, such as Georg von
Langsdorff's Observations on a journey around the world, an account of an exploring
expedition that visited the California coast in 1806. One particularly important source
has been the Robert Honeyman Collection, an extensive group that includes paintings,
drawings, prints, and photographs, most of which relate to the history of California in
the 18th and 19th centuries.
California Cornerstones contains images created by prominent photographers and artists,
many of whom received international recognition for their work. These include early San
Francisco photographers like Eadweard Muybridge, Isaiah West Taber, and Carleton E.
Watkins. The work of Arnold Genthe is represented by one of his acclaimed portraits of
the dancer Isadora Duncan, a native of San Francisco. There are also reproductions of
prints by explorers of early California, such as Louis Choris and August Bernard du
Hautcilly. More recent photography is represented by works of Dorothea Lange and Ansel
Adams. Images in California Cornerstones cover a range of subjects of great significance
to the history of the state. Many document California's diverse population, including
photographs of Native Americans, the Chinese American community in San Francisco, and the
internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The gold rush is represented in
reproductions of daguerreotypes. The development of transportation can be seen in images
of horse-drawn, rail, automobile, and air travel. Urban growth is depicted in images of
19th century cities. There are also a variety of genres present, including portraits,
bird's eye views, and aerial photographs. There are portraits of people prominent in the
state's cultural and political life, as well as people whose identities are unkown. And
many locales are present, from San Diego in 1850 to turn-of-the-century Los Angeles to
scenes from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
Following are short biographies of photographers, artists and corporate bodies
responsible for the images in California Cornerstones.
Browne, J. Ross (John Ross), 1821-1875
Born in Ireland, [he] was brought to Kentucky age 11, and as a young man became a
shorthand reporter for the U.S. Senate. His love of travel soon took him to a wide range
of places and occupations, out of which came his diverse writings. His first major
voyage, aboard a whaler in the Indian Ocean, resulted in Etchings of a Whaling Cruise
(1846), influenced by Two Years Before the Mast. He next got an appointment in the
Revenue Service, which took him to California on a voyage around the Horn and in time
provided part of the material for Crusoe's Island... with Sketches of Adventures in
California and Washoe (1864).
After three months in California (1849) he found his post gone but got another for
himself as official reporter of the Constitutional Convention that led to California's
statehood. He next made a Mediterranean tour, reported in
Yusef (1853), a
volume of his text and witty drawings, anticipating Clemens'
Innocents Abroadin its amused depiction of Americans and the foreign lands to which they
Granted a government appointment to inspect federal custom houses, Browne returned to
California (1854) and the next year moved his family to Oakland into a house later
enlarged to become known as the exotic edifice, Pagoda Hill. In succeeding years he held
other governmental posts, which led to reports (including "Indian Reservations" printed
in Harper's, 1861) that exposed corruption and mismanagement and also revealed the
complex causes of Indian wars in Oregon. The work also resulted in a book for the general
Adventures in the Apache Country, a Tour through Arizona and Sonora with
notes on the Silver Regions of Nevada
(1869). Another federal appointment, as
commissioner of mines and mining, led to further reports, was followed by his final
governmental post, as minister to China (1868)...
Hart, James D.
A Companion to California. (New York : Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 54.
Choris, Ludovik Andrevitch, 1795-1828
Ludovik Choris was born in the Ukraine, the child of German and Russian parents. He was
educated in Moscow, and by age twenty had already become an experienced traveler in the
Caucasus Mountains where he worked as artist-naturalist for Marshall von Biederstein, a
German botanist. During the same year, 1815, Choris embarked on a new adventure when, as
he later wrote, "the brig Rurik commanded by Captain Otto von Kotzebue, sailed from St.
Petersburg for a voyage of discovery around the world. At scarcely twenty years of age, I
went as draftsman with this expedition, the expenses of which were covered by Count
Romanzoff, Chancellor of the Russian Empire... During the course of this voyage, which
lasted three years, all the objects which struck my youthful imagination and my eyes were
gathered and drawn by me, sometimes with the leisure permitted by an extended sojourn,
sometimes with the rapidity made necessary by a short appearance." These drawings and
studies were later arranged and mounted to serve as models for finished paintings and
illustrations. His first set of illustrations, prepared for Kotzebue's report on the
voyage of the Rurik, Entdeckungs-reise in Südsee, prepared for publication after
their return to Europe in 1817, were disappointing in quality. Choris's unfamiliarity
with the intaglio techniques of engraving, etching, and acquatint produced rather stiff
and unattractive results, but after his move to Paris he continued his art studies.
Having mastered the technique of lithography, a much more appropriate medium for the
expression of his style, Choris prepared and published his
autour du monde
in fascicles (1820). As he wrote later, "I reproduced, for the
most part, characteristic portraits of the peoples visited by the Rurik, including their
habitations, arms, musical instruments, and ornaments; and a few landscapes that I had
drawn." The beauty and artistic quality of this work made it an immediate success, and in
1822 it was re-published in book form by Firmin Didot at Paris. The lithographic plates
designed by Choris and printed by Langlum were supplied with or without added color, and
The Bancroft Library is fortunate to own good examples of the volume in both states.
Choris's final publication before his untimely death in 1828 was the rarely-seen
Vues et paysages des régions équinoxiales, Paris (1826),
based on expedition drawings which had not been used in the Voyage pittoresque... [In
this work,] Ludovik Choris found new and inventive ways to combine narrative interest
with detailed studies of anthropological subjects and botanical detail. It is much to be
regretted that he lost his life to robbers less than two years later, while on the road
to Vera Cruz; his work was not finished.
Lawrence Dinnean Bancroftiana. No. 89. (August 1985), p. 5-6
Fiske, George, 1835-1918
One of the very best [of Yosemite's photographers of] the pioneer era was George Fiske.
After a brief stint in Sacramento as a banker, the former resident of Amherst, New
Hampshire, took up residence in San Francisco as a photographer in 1864. During the next
two decades he perfected his art, and in 1879-1880 he became the first photographer to
live in the spectacular Yosemite Valley through the winter season. With his 5-by-8-inch
and 11-by-14-inch cameras, he produced a fine series of "winter wonderland" albumen
Clearly enraptured by the valley's beauty and economic potential, Fiske and his wife
built their home and studio on the valley floor in 1883. For the next 35 years, George
Fiske wandered over the region with his wet and dry plate cameras, transported in a
wagon, "cloud-chasing Chariot" (wheelbarrow) or, during the winter months, a sturdy sled.
No other photographer had spent so much time in the valley or produced such a
comprehensive pictorial interpretation. However, most of his great Yosemite landscape
views, according to his biographers, were made between
Despite the generally fine quality of his work, Fiske did not receive the same acclaim as
his contemporaries, Eadweard Muybridge and C.E. Watkins. Only in recent years has his
memory been revived and his work applauded.
Kurutz, Gary F.
California State Library Foundation
Number 23. (April 1988), p. 27,
Genthe, Arnold, 1869-1942
Genthe was born to a sophisticated academic household in Berlin. Although his first love
was painting, the family's economic difficulties forced him to a plan a university
career. He pursued classical literary studies in Germany and France, publishing a
dictionary of German slang and writing a thesis on philology. He eventually found work as
the tutor to the son of a German baron and a California heiress, and in this capacity he
came to San Francisco in 1895. Deciding to stay on the Pacific Coast, he taught himself
photography and created a noteworthy series of images of Chinatown (1896-1906).
Eventually Genthe became an established portrait photographer. His clients included the
city's wealthy families and visiting celebrities. His highly personalized style was
considered both glamorous and artistic, and his work emphasized the most attractive
elements of his subjects. After the earthquake of 1906 he recorded now-famous scenes of
the burning city and the refugees from the fire.
In 1911 Genthe moved to New York City and achieved great success with his images of
Manhattan's social and artistic elite. Among his close friends was the innovative dancer
Isadora Duncan, and it was Genthe's portraits that Duncan considered the most truly
representative of her art. In 1925 he conducted an extensive photographic study of New
Orleans, and he later went on photographic tours of the Far East and Latin America.
His fame grew considerably in the 1920s, but by the late 1930s his aesthetic had become
passé. At the time of his death he viewed contemporary trends in photography as
"glorifying the ugly."
Arnold Genthe : a pictorialist and
(Exhibit program for the Oakland Museum,
Hare, Alice Iola, 1859-1926
Born Alice Iola Schnatterly in New Geneva, Pennsylvania, Mrs. Hare married James W. Hare
in 1877. She had four sons, the oldest of whom, John, became a photographer working for
various San Francisco newspapers. Her family moved to Santa Clara, California, in 1895,
and then to Winton in Merced County in 1911. She spent her last few years in Berkeley,
where she died.
Hare was a very active woman who displayed a variety of interests throughout her life.
Between 1895 and 1912 she worked as a amateur photographer, advertising in the business
section of the Santa Clara News. Her photographs were exhibited and published in books,
albums and magazines such as
Camera Craft and
Sunset Magazine.She was a member the Photographers Association of California.
In addition to photography, she was involved in local community work. She helped
establish the Santa Clara Women's Civic Improvement Club and others like it in the area.
She was also interested in local history, as well as improving the appearance of
neighborhoods and the state of education in her community. She produced a number of
papers and articles on these subjects.
At the end of her life Hare worked on her autobiography and wrote several short stories.
Her obituary in the Berkeley Daily Gazette does not mention her photographic activity and
refers to her as "A. Hare, Writer..." The core of Hare's photographic collection,
together with her personal papers, is held by the Bancroft Library. Smaller collections
of photographs can be found in the San Jose Historical Museum, the California Historical
Society, and in the collection of historian Clyde Arbuckle.
Palmquist, Peter E.
Shadowcatchers: A Directory of Women in
California Photography 1900-1920.
(Arcata, Calif., 1991); Henry, Michael.
"Alice Hare: Views of California Beauty" in
Kuchel & Dresel
A firm of San Francisco lithographers that flourished in the 1850s, made up of Charles
Conrad Kuchel (1820-ca.1865) and Emil Dresel. They were best known for their series
"Kuchel & Dresel's California Views," a group of lithographs depicting the state's
towns and cities. These usually included smaller views of individual buildings or farms
arrayed around the border of the main image. Many of these were printed by the firm of
Britton & Rey.
Charles Kuchel was a native of Zweibrüken, Switzerland. He came to the U.S. in the
1840s, living first in Philadelphia, where he worked for P.S. Duval, and by 1853 he was
located in San Francisco.
Lange, Dorothea, 1895-1965
Lange was born in New Jersey in 1895. In New York she worked for photographer Arnold
Genthe and studied under Clarence H. White. She came to California in 1918 and set up a
portrait photography studio in San Francisco, eventually marrying the painter Maynard
Dixon. Outside of her portrait studio, Lange specialized in social documentary
photography, with the goal of social reform through portrayal of human hardship. Her
early work includes photographs of San Francisco's Unemployed Exchange Association,
documenting the state of urban laborers during the Great Depression. She is best know for
her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration, which included now-famous
images of migrant laborers and farm families. These images were published in
(1940) a work she produced with her second husband, the
agricultural economist and social reformer Paul Schuster Taylor. During World War II she
photographed the internment of Japanese-Americans by the War Relocation Authority. In
each of these major documentary projects, Lange's sympathetic, candid, and revealing
portraits are emotional expressions of the human side of historical events.
Hart, James D.
A Companion to California. (New York : Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 230;
Barbara Museum of Art's Watkins to Weston: 101 Years of California Photography.
(Niwot, CO : Roberts Rinehart, 1992), pp. 119-121.
Langsdorff, Georg Heinrich von, 1774-1852
Born in Wöllstein, Germany, Langsdorff studied in Göttingen with the
anthropologist and naturalist Johann Blumenbach, receiving a medical degree there in
1797. After a journey through Portugal he accompanied Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov on the
Russian expedition to Japan and Alaska in 1806.
In Alaska Rezanov purchased the U.S. ship Juno and set sail for Spanish California. There
the group stayed in the San Francisco presidio and toured the region surrounding the bay.
Langsdorff recorded scenes from the entire voyage in detailed drawings, many of which
were eventually made into engravings that appeared in his
Bemerkungen auf einer
Reise um die Welt
(Observations on a journey around the world, Frankfurt, 1812).
Langsdorff was later named Russian Consul-General at Rio de Janeiro, and there he
participated in an extensive tour of the interior of Brazil.
Hart, James D.
A Companion to California. (New York : Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 230;
"Berich über eine sowjetische Konferenz zur Person des
Entdeckers Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff".
Pictorial Collections Artists File).
Muybridge, Eadweard, 1830-1904
Born Edward James Muggeridge in Kingston-upon-Thames, England, Muybridge came to the U.S.
in the early 1850s and opened a bookstore in San Francisco in 1855. After being seriously
injured in a fall from a stagecoach, he returned to England, where he turned to
photography. He came back to San Francisco in the late 1860s and did photographic work
for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.
Muybridge achieved great fame through his photographic studies of animal and human
locomotion, published in such works as
Animal locomotion (11 vols., 1887),
The human figure in motion (1901). His studies began in 1872 when he
was hired by railroad magnate Leland Stanford to prove that all four hooves of a horse
left the ground during a trot. In the course of these studies he invented devices to trip
the shutters of a series of cameras in order to record animals in motion. He later
developed a viewer called the zoopraxiscope, which allowed runs of motion photographs to
be seen as if moving. These projects are now considered the forunners of modern motion
Aside from his motion studies, Muybridge was known for the wide variety of photographs he
took of scenes in California and western North America. These included stereo views of
Alaska, Canada, California cities, Mexico, and Central America. He gained notoriety in
1874 when he murdered his wife's lover and was acquitted of the crime in a much
publicized trial. After a period of exile he returned to San Francisco in 1876, and in
the following two years he produced three massive panoramas of the City taken from Nob
Eadweard Muybridge and the photographic
panorama of San Francisco, 1850-1880.
(Montréal : Canadian
Centre for Architecture, c1993); Hart, James D.
Companion to California.
(New York : Oxford University Press, 1978),p. 292-293.
Nahl, Charles Christian, 1818-1878
Born in Germany, Nahl came from a family of prominent artists and craftsmen in Kassel.
After moving to Paris in 1846, Nahl's family went to New York in 1849 and to California
in 1850. En route through the Isthmus of Panama, Nahl sketched the scenes he saw along
the way, one of which he used later for the painting "Incident on the Chagres."
He tried his luck in the gold fields but eventually returned to art. He worked in
Sacramento in 1851 and came to San Francisco in 1852. There, in addition to painting, he
went into business in partnership with his half-brother Hugo. The brothers produced
daguerreotypes and photographs and developed a reputation for fine lithography. They also
specialized in souvenir stationary illustrated with pictures of the California mines.
Nahl's style, a result of his training in Germany and Paris, was influenced by the
romanticism then fashionable in Europe. In addition to his California scenes he painted
historical subjects such as "The rape of the Sabine women," a series of three panels now
housed in the M.H. de Young Museum. His mining scenes, especially "Sunday morning in the
mines" (1872), were said to have been an inspiration for the stories of Bret Hart. Over
the years Nahl developed a close association with the Crocker family, and many of his
works were commissioned by Judge E. B. Crocker for his private art gallery.
Charles Christian Nahl : the painter of
California pioneer life.
(San Francisco, 1937);
A Companion to California.
(New York : Oxford
University Press, 1978).
Narjot, Ernest Etienne, 1826-1898
Born in Brittany, Narjot studied painting in Paris and came to San Francisco via Cape
Horn in 1849. Although he devoted himself to prospecting for gold, he continued to paint.
He went to Mexico with a mining expedition in 1852, and there he met and married his wife
in 1860. Returning to San Francisco in 1865 he set up a studio on Clay Street and began
to paint professionally. His best known works were his illustrations for Albert S.
A La California : sketches of life in the golden state (1873), his
"New Year's Festival in Chinatown," and a painting titled "The sacrifice of a Druid
While painting the tomb of Leland Stanford, Narjot was allegedly blinded by drops of
paint. He died destitute in a tenement on Vallejo Street in San Francisco. Many of his
paintings were destroyed in the burning of the San Francisco Art Association following
the earthquake of 1906.
California's pioneer artist : Ernest
Rodolph, Frank Bequette, 1843-1923
Rodolph was a commercial photographer active in Oakland during the 1870s and 1880s. Born
in Wisconsin, he and his family travelled overland to California in 1850. They settled
first in Placerville and later operated a ranch on Cache Creek. Moving to Oakland in
1869, Rodolph attended business college and opened a stationary store on Broadway in
partnership with his father. The store also sold school books and sheet music, and in the
1880s Rodolph began doing printing work as well. Many of his photographs were taken on
his extensive travels throughout California.
Based on an autobiographical sketch:
Materials concerning Frank B. Rodolph and the Rodolph family,
(Manuscript collection in The Bancroft
Taber, Isaiah West, 1830-1912
Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Taber went to sea when he was fifteen and worked on
whaling ships in the North Pacific. He came to California in the gold rush and, after
brief careers in shipping, mining, and farming, returned to New Bedford and became a
dentist. He soon turned to photography, however, opening a gallery in Syracuse, New York,
and finally going back to California in 1864 at the inducement of the photographers
Bradley and Rulofson. He worked for them until 1871, when he opened his own gallery on
Montgomery Street. His highly successful business was well-known for portraiture and a
vast stock of California and Western views --many of which were the unacknowledged works
of other photographers. His career ended in 1906 when his entire collection of glass
plates, view negatives and portraits on glass were destroyed in the San Francisco
earthquake and fire.
Hart, James D.
A Companion to California (New York : Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 439; Murray, W.
The builders of a great city : San Francisco's representative men...(San Francisco : The Journal, 1891), p. 329-330.
Vance, Robert H., 1825-1876
A pioneering California photographer, Vance came from a prominent family in Maine and
opened his first studio in Boston at age 19. He came to California via Cape Horn in 1851,
and in San Francisco he established a successful portrait gallery. Later that year he
recorded two of the city's devastating fires, and these and other images he brought to
New York City for an exhibition titled "Views in California." Back in San Francisco,
Vance set up an elaborate two-story gallery and studio at Montgomery and Sacramento
Streets. In 1858 and 1859 he sent his partner Charles Weed into the field to document
mining scenes on the American River and the scenery of Yosemite. It was through Vance
that Carleton E. Watkins received his first training.
By 1860 Vance had expanded his operations as far as Hong Kong, but losses from mining
investments forced him to sell his San Francisco studio to the firm of Bradley &
Rulofson. After operating another studio in Nevada he went to New York City and became a
Palmquist, Peter E.
Robert Vance : pioneer in Western
Watkins, Carleton E., 1829-1916
Throughout his long and eventful life Carleton Watkins created a massive photographic
record of California and the western U.S. He was born in Oneonta, New York, and there, in
his youth, he met Collis P. Huntington, then a tin peddler. The two came to California
during the Gold Rush and continued a life-long friendship that survived their divergent
Watkins' career in photography began when he met the San Francisco daguerreotypist R. H.
Vance, who gave Watkins a job and taught him the rudiments of the trade. Watkins then
opened his own studio in San Francisco in the late 1850s. In 1861 he travelled to
Yosemite and made a series of photographs using a mammoth-plate camera. These began his
long association with the Valley and earned him international recognition. His Yosemite
work would later be instrumental in helping to preserve the area as a national park.
In 1871 Watkins opened his Yosemite Art Gallery on Montgomery Street in San Francisco.
Throughout the next two decades his activities multiplied, although his financial
situation was severely weakened by the depression of the mid-1870s. His extensive travels
throughout the West resulted in many celebrated series of photographs, including images
of Oregon, the California missions, Southern California agriculture, the route of the
Southern Pacific Railroad, the interiors of Montana copper mines, Yellowstone Park, and
panoramas of Western towns like Virginia City.
Beginning in the early 1890s Watkins's health began to deteriorate along with his
economic well-being. Nearly blind and impoverished in the mid-90s, he was helped somewhat
by the generosity of his friend Huntington, by then a multi-millionaire. A great blow
came in 1906 when Watkins's equipment and his entire stock of valuable prints were
destroyed in the fire following the San Francisco earthquake. The shock precipitated his
mental breakdown, and he was finally sent by his family to the state hospital in Napa,
where he died in 1916.
Johnson, J. W.
C. E. Watkins : pioneer Pacific Coast
(Typescript [carbon] in The Bancroft