Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829–1916)
Albumen silver print from glass negative
20 5/8 x 15 3/4 in. (52.4 x 40 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005 (2005.100.108)
In 1867, Watkins made a four-month trip to Oregon and the Columbia River. Josiah Whitney accompanied him for the first month and helped finance the excursion. Watkins had photographed the Nevada, Vernal, and Yosemite Falls before he went to Oregon; on those occasions, he either described the waterfalls as elements within broader landscapes (on the mammoth plates) or made close-up shots of the water roaring over the rocks (for stereo viewing). In this marvelously minimal photograph, he seems to have applied the simplicity of effect he usually reserved for stereographs to the monumental mammoth plate; boldly reducing the cascade to its essentials, white water cleaves dark rock in a single stroke, like liquid lightning.