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Thread: New Carleton Watkins Book

  1. #11
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: New Carleton Watkins Book

    Watkins traveled with an entire support crew and mule train. He had his own dedicated rail car when doing work for them. But there were photographers on the frontier using far bigger cameras, who needed an entire scaffold built in advance to support them. Around the same time, early survey crews were climbing to the summits of some quite remote peaks. They leveled their early transits just with leg adjustments, just like my father taught me, and he was a surveyor for Grand Coulee Dam, and a supervisor for the Central Valley Project. And it had to be precise - way way more precise than anything a landscape photographer does. Tripod heads and modern self-leveling theodolites etc didn't exist. But bubble levels weren't some two buck toy bought on Amazon either.

  2. #12
    Mark Sawyer's Avatar
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    Re: New Carleton Watkins Book

    I've ordered the book in question, but it's en route so I don't know what it will have to say or show. But I found this image of Watkins' camp in my files from my own expeditions into the wilds of the internet. That's Watkins' mammoth camera and tripod, I presume, on top of his wagon. You can see the wagon wheels through the fence slats; Ansel wasn't the first to photograph from the top of a vehicle! The top of Watkins' tripod legs appear mounted well-apart from each other on a table-like platform.

    If anyone has a higher resolution version of this image, let me know!
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Carlton Watkins in camp.jpg  
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

  3. #13
    Tin Can's Avatar
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    Re: New Carleton Watkins Book

    Just got the very wordy book that will make great reading, image plates are small but sharp.

    Lot of politics also.

    Manufactured in China, well bound, quality paper, tiny print.

    A tome.
    sin eater

  4. #14
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: New Carleton Watkins Book

    He worked with various cameras, not just with what was needed for big contact prints. Thus more than one tripod option. Much of his income came from the small stereoscopic images that were so popular in that era, and that rarely come remotely close to the artistic quality of his best big images. He was funded by the railroad relative to its aspiration to expand and profit from scenic tourism in West. His big parlor images slowed down selling once he had serious competition like Muybridge and Fiske. Watkins wouldn't budge on his high prices, so ended up more than once in dire financial straits. The ending, as we all know, was tragic. Luckily, just enough big prints survived in private collections to give us a good idea of his exceptional powers of visualization. But it's really difficult to appreciate those albumen prints except in full scale; no book with its shrunken imagery can do anything except communicate a hint of the subject matter involved.

  5. #15
    Jim Jones's Avatar
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    Re: New Carleton Watkins Book

    The images are indeed small, but well produced. The main value of the book is the well-documented information about Watkins and his milieu for those who want to learn about more than just the photographs and their technique. The author is a researcher and an acclaimed historian and art critic, not a photographer. For larger images, I found Carleton Watkins: The Stanford Albums with its 9.5x12.5 inch reproductions of many mammoth plate photographs impressive. However, it is a lot more expensive. Heavy, too, at almost 6 pounds, but far more manageable than the 30 pound albums from which the photographs were copied.

  6. #16
    Tin Can's Avatar
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    Re: New Carleton Watkins Book

    Jim, I will aspire to the "The Stanford Albums" cheapest is $115 kinda ratty. VGC is $175 and new is $250.

    It's on a list, but first I need to prep this old house for winter. Generator...and all it needs.

    And I got 3 books in the mail today. Winter reading!

    This is history I never learned.
    sin eater

  7. #17
    Jim Jones's Avatar
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    Re: New Carleton Watkins Book

    When one of the finest books on photography first appears, we should grab it. It may be a good investment as well as a photographic treasure. When Time-Life offered signed copies of Ansel Adams' Yosemite: The Range Of Light in 1980 for maybe $75. I bought the first version. A little later I also bought the second version and gave it to a treasured friend. Treasures aren't treasures unless they are shared. Since those were large printings, they haven't increased greatly in value. The image quality, unlike the price, is fairly comparable to original signed prints. Beauty and knowledge are more affordable than mere investments.

  8. #18

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    Re: New Carleton Watkins Book

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Wiley View Post
    They leveled their early transits just with leg adjustments, just like my father taught me, and he was a surveyor for Grand Coulee Dam, and a supervisor for the Central Valley Project. And it had to be precise - way way more precise than anything a landscape photographer does. Tripod heads and modern self-leveling theodolites etc didn't exist. But bubble levels weren't some two buck toy bought on Amazon either.
    Transits (also called theodolites in the early days, then later applied to the better instruments) had leveling screws (thumb screws) even in the 1830's, so approximate leveling would be done with the tripod, then fine-tuning with the screws at the base. It's easy to find pictures on the internet (antique dealers, etc.), and the basic design lasted about a century. I learned to survey in the mid-1970's, on old transits and levels similar in design to those of the mid-1800's.

    I use a small bubble level for my view camera, and level it with the legs; it only takes a minute or so. Over the last 5 years, I have been re-taking many early photographs from the northern Rocky Mountains, and the historic images are close to my leveled images, so the early photographers (Jackson, Haynes, some other USGS folks, etc.) apparently leveled their cameras somehow. The later hand-held images (around 1910 to 1920) are often tilted a few degrees.

  9. #19
    Mark Sawyer's Avatar
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    Re: New Carleton Watkins Book

    It wasn't unusual for a good 19th century compass to have a level more than equal to today's spirit and bubble levels.
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

  10. #20
    tgtaylor's Avatar
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    Re: New Carleton Watkins Book

    This book is a great read! To supplement it I ordered Carleton Watkins:The Complete Mammoth Photographs and a better quality 100mm 5x magnifying glass from Amazon to better view the reproductions which are excellent.

    According to Green, Watkins printed the negatives from his first trip to Yosemite in January, 1862 during "...the worst weather that San Francisco had seen in its fourteen American years. It rained, sometimes two and three inches a day. It was cold, so cold that snow turned Mount Diablo...bright white." "There is a great flood in the interior {of the state]" Thomas Starr King wrote to a friend in New York, "California is a lake. Rats, squirrels, locusts...and other pests are drowned out..." So it would appear that Watkins printed under cloud cover which requires a longer exposure time but allows for the greater definition that Watkin's prints exhibit.

    Thomas

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