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10 / The Natural World

Falls of the Yosemite
Falls of the Yosemite
Artist / Origin Eadweard Muybridge (British, emigrated to the US, 1830–1904)
Region: North America
Date 1872–1873
Material Albumen print
Dimensions H: 21 ¼(54 cm.), W: 16 ¾ in. (42.5 cm.)
Location Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT
Credit Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Harrison A. Augur

expert perspective

Robin Jaffee FrankSenior Associate Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, Yale University Art Gallery

Additional Resources

Gidley, Mick, and Robert Lawson-Peebles. Views of American Landscapes. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2007.

Ogden, Kate Nearpass. “God’s Great Plow and the Scripture of Nature: Art and Geology at Yosemite.” California History 71.1 (Spring 1992): 88–109.

Ogden, Kate Nearpass. “Sublime Vistas and Scenic Backdrops: Nineteenth-Century Painters and Photographers at Yosemite.” California History 69.2 (Summer 1990): 134–153.

Sandweiss, Martha A. Print the Legend: Photography and the American West. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Scott, Amy. Yosemite: Art of an American Icon. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.

Solnit, Rebecca. River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. New York: Viking, 2003.

Falls of the Yosemite

» Eadweard Muybridge (British, emigrated to the US, 1830–1904)

Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) was an English expatriate who rose to prominence as a photographer in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century.

During this period, when the medium was still new, many a photographer sought to make a name for himself by capturing the beauty of the western landscape. Muybridge distinguished himself by going to unprecedented lengths to take the most memorable photographs. To enhance the majesty of his photographs, Muybridge took them with a mammoth-plate camera, which produced incredibly large landscape images. He cut down trees to achieve the best views and hauled his heavy camera to such dangerous and precarious locations that even his guides refused to follow him.

Taken during an epic six-month trip West in 1872, Falls of the Yosemite is a prime example of Muybridge’s daring. It also exemplifies his painterly approach to photography. Unlike his competitor Carl Watkins, whose images were highly structured with sharp contours, Muybridge chose to give his photographs more ethereal atmospheric effects. In Falls of Yosemite, for instance, the lone figure perched on a precipice overlooking the valley appears shrouded in mist. The result of Muybridge’s technique was both striking and serene.

Muybridge is probably best known for his photographic studies involving the movements of humans and animals, a series of projects he embarked on after his studies in the West. However, his views of Yosemite are among the most memorable images of the California valley from that era. Displayed in hotels in the eastern United States and Europe, his images were intended to entice tourists to Yosemite and the surrounding region. Whether or not they accomplished this goal, Muybridge’s photographs undoubtedly contributed to fantasies about and fascination with the American West. At the same time, they influenced the compositions of generations of artists, amateur photographers, and sightseers with cameras. It might be said, therefore, that Muybridge played a role in shaping the way we look at landscapes even today.

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