The stunning photos of Carleton Watkins (University of California, $34.95) are even more amazing once you know that to get these iconic shots of Yosemite, Mt Shasta, and other natural wonders, he had to hike long distances uphill, negotiate rugged ground, perch on cliff-edges, and face all kinds of weather—all while toting hundreds of pounds of fragile equipment. As intrepid as his subject, Tyler Green pursues every lead to flesh out the life of this great 19th-century American photographer. Deprived of documents and glass plate negatives by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Tyler recounts Watkins’s life through the remaining hundreds of photos and through records kept by famous friends, such as John Muir. Green puts the work in larger contexts as well, showing how Watkins’s focus on landscape for its own sake echoed Emerson’s thinking about nature and fostered evolving notions of conservation and national parks and how he helped inform scientists about the botany and geology of the west. Finally, Tyler makes Watkins key to the nation’s idea of itself; showing Easterners the West, he shaped popular ideas of what “America” was, wasn’t, and could be.
Carleton Watkins: Making the West American by Tyler Green