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Thread: 2 Astonishing exhibits in the last month. Carleton Watkins!

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    2 Astonishing exhibits in the last month. Carleton Watkins!

    How did he do it!

    I have been lucky to see both the Columbia River Gorge pictures at the Portland Art Museum, and the Huge intallation currently running at the Getty. Both were full of astounding 18X22 Mammoth Plate photographs done by this man. They truly humble me. They would easily humble Ansel's best work 70 years later.

    My question is whether anyone knows what lens he used to accomplish these magnificent pieces. OK, turn the clock backwards to 1865 before you start throwing your guesses. That limits him to Petzval's and Landscape meniscii. Yet his pictures are sharp all they way into the corners and near forgrounds within a few feet of the camera are sharp as are infinity. Now he also had to contend with wet plates and ASA of less than 1? If he stopped down to f64 it would take all day for an exposure right?

    Was he a VERY early (first year) adopter of the Rapid Rectilinear? The 1867 photos in Portland could have been done with one of Mr. Dallmeyer's RR's? But the earlier photos exhibit the same character.

    If you can get to either show, GO! The Getty is displaying a mammoth plate studio camera with an enormous lens. It is fully twice the size of my Century 8 11X14.

    also posted at apug
    He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep..to gain that which he cannot lose. Jim Elliot, 1949

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    Founder QT Luong's Avatar
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    Re: 2 Astonishing exhibits in the last month. Carleton Watkins!

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Galli View Post
    They would easily humble Ansel's best work 70 years later.
    In what sense ? Technical, esthetic ?

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    Re: 2 Astonishing exhibits in the last month. Carleton Watkins!

    Quote Originally Posted by QT Luong View Post
    In what sense ? Technical, esthetic ?
    Yes. Technically he achieved the same or better than Ansel with VERY primitive technology, and aesthetically he was the equal of anyone else I've ever seen. Like the first generation of movie star's, he was a "natural". Foreground pine tree needles perfectly defined and without a twitter. Reflections on pools like mirrors. How did he do it with the exposure times necessary for wet glass plate?
    He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep..to gain that which he cannot lose. Jim Elliot, 1949

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    Wayne venchka's Avatar
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    Re: 2 Astonishing exhibits in the last month. Carleton Watkins!

    Simple. He was a time traveller testing the prototype Fuji Neopan 100 Across emulsion and the rare process version of the Mamiya 7II lenses.

    Seriously folks, it seems that the more me learn, the less we know. Clearly there were people doing amazing things in the infancy of photoraphy. He left no technical notes?
    Wayne
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    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Re: 2 Astonishing exhibits in the last month. Carleton Watkins!

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Galli View Post
    Yes. Technically he achieved the same or better than Ansel with VERY primitive technology, and aesthetically he was the equal of anyone else I've ever seen. Like the first generation of movie star's, he was a "natural". Foreground pine tree needles perfectly defined and without a twitter. Reflections on pools like mirrors. How did he do it with the exposure times necessary for wet glass plate?
    I like William Henry Jackson's work a bit better myself. And many (most? all?) of the "first on the scene" photographers had a "wonderful" advantage over later photographers -- the axe. Call it "view maintenance" if you want a euphemism. But the ability to clear out trees that you want out of your photograph has a way of making it look as if you have the "gift" of finding just the right view at just the right time. Adams was late enough on the scene that he couldn't and wouldn't do this -- thus the platform on top of the car. Helpful, but not the same thing.

    And there is something to say for the aesthetics of panchromatic vs. orthochromatic. I've never really liked the ortho look myself, white skies and all that.

    But from a technical standpoint, can't say a word against the old guys. Working with wet glass plates, even small ones, takes more chutzpah than I'm ever likely to work up. Carrying your own chemical warehouse with you, working with a big red tent on location, having minutes from coating the plate to making the exposure, no meters, sub ASA 1, carting the exposed and processed plates back to civilization using mules over often bad trails, all that... It's just amazing that anyone could or would do it. Beyond amazing that they created so many truly wonderful photographs. Then again, we never see the clinkers -- they just scraped them and reused the glass for the next exposure ;-)

    Bruce Watson

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    Wayne venchka's Avatar
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    Re: 2 Astonishing exhibits in the last month. Carleton Watkins!

    I'm equally in awe. I'm also sure that we probably didn't see some the best plates due to travel accidents.
    Wayne
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    Re: 2 Astonishing exhibits in the last month. Carleton Watkins!

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Galli View Post
    They would easily humble Ansel's best work 70 years later.
    also posted at apug
    B.S! (IMO)

    As to how they did it. They had the superb training from 4 years of the Civil War (eg, War Between the States, eg, War of Yankee Agression) to develop, practice, and perfect their technical skills.
    Wilhelm (Sarasota)

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    Re: 2 Astonishing exhibits in the last month. Carleton Watkins!

    These images make you wonder why anybody bothered to invent digital. Stunning!
    Pete

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    Wayne venchka's Avatar
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    Re: 2 Astonishing exhibits in the last month. Carleton Watkins!

    Civil War: Explains proficiency with the equipment. Doesn't explain how they made water and trees stand still.

    Digital cameras make "Photoshopping" the image easier.
    Wayne
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    Re: 2 Astonishing exhibits in the last month. Carleton Watkins!

    Quote Originally Posted by venchka View Post
    Civil War: Explains proficiency with the equipment. Doesn't explain how they made water and trees stand still.
    Perhaps that can be explained by the relatively lost art of observation and patience. I photograph under the redwoods with exposure times of 30 seconds to 30 minutes...with everything stock still. It is not difficult...one must just be willing to take the time to observe and understand the weather, patterns and possibilities of a place...and be willing to wait until the proper moment arrives.

    I think it is a mistake to compare Watkins/Jackson/Britt/Muybridge/Weed, et al, with AA/the Westons/Bullock, et al. in order to determine whom is "better". While there are similarities, often the motives and conceptual aims of the two groups were quite different. Different enough to be judging apples against oranges. Likes and dislikes are, of course, a different matter.

    I do like Watkins' reply to a judge (during a civil trial involving a mine dispute of some kind) when he questioned Watkins why he chose a particular place to photograph the mine in question. His reply was something along the lines of "I picked the best view."

    Vaughn

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