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Thread: Which lenses did Carleton Watkins use in 1861 for his mammoth plate camera

  1. #11
    Foamer
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    Re: Which lenses did Carleton Watkins use in 1861 for his mammoth plate camera

    You may only be able to determine lens type by studying the images. My guess is he used standard achromatic doublets.


    Kent in SD
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  2. #12

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    Re: Which lenses did Carleton Watkins use in 1861 for his mammoth plate camera

    Well, sometimes the photographer was very helpful. Samuel Bourne of Simla shot snowscapes in the Himalayas in 1865, and at 18,600 feet (highest altitude for photography at the time) and noted in his articles of the time that he used a Grubb C lens to do so. He also had a Grubb A0 and a Dallmeyer Triple Achromat. So he was using very recent (1857 & 1861) 'landscape' lenses and he went on to explain that the Grubb C could be used to cover 12" x 10" rather than 10" x 8" which it was specified for, and this is why he chose it. Grubb lenses were available in Allahabad. So it all works together well. And FWIW he recounted a tale of meeting a photographic Rajah whose marvellous collection of equipment looked unused - so gear heads have been around since photography began too! This all illustrates that like today, the latest equipment was bought and used to try new things and produce new images. Carleton Watkins is supposed to have used a Grubb C lens too but I can't actually tie this down to any specific reference as yet and this is what I would like to do, and also find out what other lenses he was using. This is, sort of, my starting point.

  3. #13
    Mark Sawyer's Avatar
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    Re: Which lenses did Carleton Watkins use in 1861 for his mammoth plate camera

    The only mammoth plate lens Watkins is ever known to have used is the 16-inch Harrison & Schnitzer Globe Lens. Here it is on Watkins camera in Yosemite. The British patent for the Globe Lens is dated 1860, so the lens was available by the time of Watkins 1861 Yosemite trip.

    BTW, the image of the Mammoth Plate camera in a museum display is a modern reproduction with a lens that, though perhaps period-correct, almost certainly wasn't used by Watkins.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Carleton-Watkins-camera-Yosemite-250-216-42.jpg  
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

  4. #14

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    Re: Which lenses did Carleton Watkins use in 1861 for his mammoth plate camera

    Many Americans and British daguerreotype then wetplate photographers used French landscape lenses. Typically Hermagis or Jamin pillbox types, they were common for more than a decade before the Globe came out. I imagine that Watkins started out, or was at least familiar, with those before the Globe was invented. But like people said above, he's known for a Harrison Globe for his big plates.

    Lenses like this would have been used prior to the Dallmeyer Wide Angle Rectilinear, Triple Achromat, and the Globe.


  5. #15

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    Re: Which lenses did Carleton Watkins use in 1861 for his mammoth plate camera

    I've asked a few Watkins scholars I know if they know what lens he used in 1861 on mammoth plates. There was a lot of discussion and inputs on the old Civil War collodion forum, now gone. Even the more active forum that replaced it, Quinn's Collodion.com that I moderated, closed last week for good. All that great info and scholarship and help files....gone. Here is a print from an 1861 plate he did.


  6. #16
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Which lenses did Carleton Watkins use in 1861 for his mammoth plate camera

    My garsh, Garrett, I was just looking at two of my own 8x10 negs of that same tree yesterday! It's not far from my hometown area. Never knew he was there, but within 20 yrs a logging rail was in there cutting down almost every big tree except that one (nobody had a saw long enough), so it wasn't exactly a secret place. He would have encountered the trail into that grove when heading into Yosemite on the route from the south, so it makes sense, really. It's the biggest tree in the world according to Forest Service rules, which are based upon girth at eight feet above ground. But Park Service rules are based on cumulative board footage, limbs n all, which makes the General Sherman tree in Sequoia NP the world's biggest in their eyes. An even bigger one was cut down in Sequoia and the stump turned into a dance platform. Watkins had to deal with almost exactly the same background clutter I did. I recognize specific trees. And even a big chunk of the same fallen foreground limb remains. My own compositions were vertical, but I cheated with a generous dose of red dye on the neg to block out the distracting background. It's been about 15 yrs since I last printed it. My babysitter as an infant went into Yos Valley that direction as little girl not long after that shot was taken. I was too young to remember her stories, but my parents did, and her daughter, already elderly woman herself, told them to me when I watered her garden as a kid. Indians resident in the Valley were still unclothed, and obviously not driven out yet. I've seen ambrotypes. But Yos Indians were Sierra Miwok, and that particular Sequoia grove was in Paiute-descent Monache territory, who weren't always kind to the Miwoks. Somewhere in the family collection there is also a pile of Watkins stereo prints of Yosemite, but those aren't regarded as highly collectible like the big individual prints. He mass marketed those.

  7. #17
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    Re: Which lenses did Carleton Watkins use in 1861 for his mammoth plate camera

    Looks like a copy of that photo is for sale on ebay for $515.


    Kent in SD
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  8. #18

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    Re: Which lenses did Carleton Watkins use in 1861 for his mammoth plate camera

    If you haven't read this book "Making the West" and like Carleton's work and want to understand where he has photographed don't hesitate to buy it. It not only open my mind to ultra formats but gave me an understanding of what type of life my great grandparents and grandparents' environment was, as they grew up in the bay area at that time.

    I wouldn't have found this book if i hadn't read a post on this forum where the fellow member talked about the book.

    Gregory

  9. #19
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Which lenses did Carleton Watkins use in 1861 for his mammoth plate camera

    I had that book once. It didn't impress me as having much insight into his mode of perception or composition, but did provide historical context. It wasn't truly the frontier anymore. He was primarily sponsored by the railroads for sake of fostering Western tourism business. His life is pretty well known here in the Bay Area due to his tragic encounter with SF earthquake of 1906, which destroyed most of his print inventory and sent him to an insane asylum. The best early Calif photographic collection is housed by the Oakland Museum.

  10. #20

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    Re: Which lenses did Carleton Watkins use in 1861 for his mammoth plate camera

    Fascinating. Looks like I need to do more digging. And FWIW one of the things I have found out is that patent law in Britain changed in 1852 making it easier to patent inventions. I suspect that this has a bearing on the 1860 patent in Britain of the Globe lens. But I am still looking for confirmation of the other lenses Carleton used in Yosemite in the early 1860s.

    Having had a look at the formats he used I can see that he shot on his mammoth camera, stereo camera and also produced some ~12" x 8" prints. Plus some smaller prints. Working backwards it seems to me that the mammoth would have used the Globe lens, then the 12" x 8" could have been from the Grubb 'C' which covered this, and smaller prints might just have been from using a stereo lens with better coverage than needed. Unfortunately photos have missing dates and so its like trying to decipher a code by looking for clues here and there. We all take for granted that travelling into Yosemite with a ton weight of gear was exceptionally difficult, but finding out just what that gear was is proving difficult.

    If I can add in another query, the Grubb C lens is pillbox style like the Hermagis in post 14, but I've seen some with a reduced length tube where the washer stops are placed. Using the lens with the stop in its rearmost position and with a reduced tube sticking out in front probably increased its angle of view and coverage. I wonder just what coverage it might have been capable of with a small stop?

    Finally found a reference: Tyler Green “Carleton Watkins Making the West American” Chapter 5 Page 85 mentions ‘cutting edge Grubb-C lens” for his 1861 trip into Yosemite.

    Another reference is from a letter to editor Wilson in which Watkins says 'most' of the mammoth prints were from a Globe lens, but implying not all. I wonder which others?
    Last edited by pgk; 20-May-2020 at 02:53.

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