Grizzly Giant – Carleton Watkins

Grizzly Giant - Carleton Watkins - I want to tell a story while It's on my mind. Something that is becoming more relevant in my life as time goes on. A story of a well intentioned photographer and a giant Sequoia called Grizzly Giant - Carleton Watkins.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the late 19th century photographer Carleton Watkins. His life was filled with hardships but his passion was the natural world and photography. I’ve found inspiration in his work and his life. He was also the first person to photograph the gorge.

Carleton Watkins was born in New York but moved to California in 1851 to find gold. He had never taken a photo before but was asked to tend to a shop for a daguerreotype photographer. He learned photography from his employer and by 1858 he had his own photography business. Most of his photos were commissioned work including one that took him to Mariposa.

In 1861 he made a trip to Yosemite that would change his career. Carleton used a huge view camera that used 18” x 22” glass plates. This allowed him to take much larger and more detailed views. When he returned from Yosemite he had made 30 huge glass plate photos and a hundred stereoview images. The photos were some of the very first photos that anyone had seen back east.

One of his photos was of the Grizzly Giant sequoia tree. His huge 18x22 camera captured the whole tree, which was the first time that it had ever been done. Between making a photo that had never been done before and his fame the photo went 19th century viral.

Watkin’s intentions were to photograph the trees to protect them but what happened was quite the opposite. More exposure led to more tourism and with more tourism came more commercial exploitation of the resources he intended to protect.

Today in the 21st century we’re going through a similar situation with photography. With digital cameras comes with more photographer taking photos of these amazingly beautiful natural places and with more people comes more wear, tear and damage from overuse or bad decisions.

I can’t help but think that I can understand how Carelton Watkins feels, especially in the aftermath of this senseless fire in the precious, fragile and sensitive Columbia River Gorge. I have spent over ten years innocently posting photos from the gorge not realizing how it could help cause such an influx of people both caring and uncaring.

It hurts me inside that my intentions would have some part, even in a small way, in causing harm to a place that I love so much.