Stanford University
Carleton Watkins Explored
In collaboration with the Bill Lane Center for the American West (BLC), the Cantor Arts Center, and the Stanford Geospatial Center, this project seeks to illustrate the importance of Carleton Watkins’ photography and situate his work in a broader historical and geographic context.

This project is centered on the exhibition Carleton Watkins: The Stanford Albums at the Cantor Museum (April 24– August 17, 2014) featuring Watkins’ mid- to late-nineteenth-century photographs of the American West from Stanford Library’s Special Collections. Watkins was a prolific San Francisco-based photographer who, only a few decades after the invention of the photography, traveled by mule train with a mobile darkroom to produce some of the first images of now iconic areas of the West. His mammoth (18” x 22”) photographs were (and still are) stunning. Although his studio and life’s work was lost in the 1906 earthquake, the Stanford Albums survived. The Cantor exhibit features more than 80 original mammoth prints from three unique albums of Watkins’s work: Photographs of the Yosemite Valley (1861 and 1865–66), Photographs of the Pacific Coast (1862–76), and Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon (1867 and 1870).

The exhibition is curated by Elizabeth Kathleen Mitchell, Ph.D., the Cantor's Burton and Deedee McMurtry Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, with co-curator George Philip LeBourdais, Ph.D. candidate in Stanford's Department of Art & Art History and Colleen Stockmann, Assistant Curator for Special Projects, Cantor Arts Center.


CESTA contributions to the exhibit include the following:

Interactive Multimedia Exhibits
Student research assistants led the production of three digital kiosks that accompany the exhibition. These interactive touchscreens illustrate elements of the world beyond Watkins' lens, situating them in their geographic context. Affiliates of CESTA who worked on the kiosks include:

Nicholas Bauch, CESTA/BLC
George Philip LeBourdais, Department of Art and Art History
David Medeiros, Stanford Geospatial Center
Ashley Ngu, CESTA/BLC
Erik Steiner, CESTA
Colleen Stockmann, Cantor Arts Center
Davis Wertheimer, CESTA/BLC

Links to web-based versions of these kiosks are here: Re-photographing Watkins's Pacific Coast, Columbia River and Oregon Slideshow, and Yosemite Tour.

Exhibition Catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by a volume of the same title published by Stanford University Press. It includes all 156 images from the albums—a definitive collection of Watkins’s highest achievements—and 17 essays by Stanford-affiliated contributors. Essays written by Spatial History Project affiliates include:

“Overlooking the Columbia”
Erik Steiner

“How a Historian Reads a Picture”
Richard White

Panel Discussion: Photography, Yosemite, and Stanford: The Legacy of Carleton Watkins
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Distinguished Stanford faculty, curators, and scholars discussed the enduring impact of Carleton Watkins’s photographs.
George Philip LeBourdais (moderator), Elizabeth Kathleen Mitchell, Erik Steiner, Buzz Thompson, Richard White

Lecture/Demonstration: The Views of Carleton Watkins Today
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Stanford students Ashley Ngu and Davis Wertheimer presented the technology they created that lets visitors better understand the geography and history behind Carleton Watkins’s landscapes. Opening comments were delivered by CESTA/BLC Post-Doctoral Scholar Nicholas Bauch.

Former Research Assistants:
Delenn Chin, Ashley Ngu, Davis Wertheimer

Modern Art Notes Podcast: Carleton Watkins
Modern Art Notes Podcast: Carleton Watkins

Spatial History