Next, find and evaluate two photographs by any of the photographers Snyder mentions, but not specific examples that he addresses in the essay. Your evaluation (up to 250 words for each) should reflect some of the points that Snyder makes, as well as any other references.
My opinion towards Carleton Watkins was initially rather severe, in my eyes I saw him visualising the land as a place to conquer and humanise with utter disregard of any inhabitants of the land and wildlife. And whilst this is true, I have learned that there was also a different side to him his images inspired a huge Environmental revolution in America. When he first visited Yosemite in the late 1800’s he was blown away by the beauty of the landscape. His resulting images were shown to President Abraham Lincoln who signed the Yosemite Grant Act in turn inspiring John Muir to see Yosemite as a protected National Park who motivated President Theodore Roosevelt to create the National Park which is known and loved today.
“The radiance in some places is so great as to be fairly dazzling. Every crystal, every flower, a window opening into heaven. A mirror reflecting the creators.” John Muir describing Yosemite.
Man and nature are juxtaposed against one another in an eternal battle. This limestone slide created by nature and captured by man is a result of layers of sediment piling up on one another. There is such a contrast of nature and man here, while Timothy O’ Sullivan would have approached this shot to show the power of nature, Carleton Watkins shows the road to the future, the train passing across the foreground, a poignant memorial of the landscape that was savaged to set down such tracks. Highlighting the power of Progress and how it will continue.
Such images inspired and appealed to the nation, their ideal of an American Eden, yet compare this image with the truth of the matter. As Synder discussed in his essay, the ‘American Eden’ was only half of the picture, the other half was more brutal. To create the Central Pacific Railroad (which Carleton Watkins was one of the ‘big four'(owners of the railroad) something innocent must be destroyed and thus followed the devastating slaughter of the tens of millions of herds of Buffalo that had once roamed the lands as well as the homes and lives of the Native Americans and anyone who was caught in the vicious crossfire.
“Maybe Progress should lose for once” Owen – Jurassic World.
This pile of Bison skulls makes me feel physically sick, they look so proud to have slaughtered such innocent creatures! Whilst I am not at all insinuating that Carleton Watkins is entirely to blame for this, I am merely saying that he appealed to citizens by showing how man has a right to dominate the planet through his photography, spinning a lie and he was an owner of the railroad.
“The great Pacific Railway is commenced.… Immigration will soon pour into these valleys. Ten millions of emigrants will settle in this golden land in twenty years.… This is the grandest enterprise under God!”George Francis Train – Railroad financier
On the positive side, photographs such as these were able to show the nation the truth behind the ‘American Eden’ and images such as this gave rise to Conservational Photography.
O’Sullivans images show the harsh brutality of nature, showing the insignificance of man in the face of nature. Perhaps this stems from his first-hand encounter in the war seeing the terrible loss of life.
I was drawn in by the power of this image of the Shoshone falls, the still waters contrast with the raging water in the backgrounds, though the movement is not visible, our imagination fills in the gaps of this roaring natural wonder and picks out the tiny figure at the edge of the water. Watching. One thing I was struck by when I was viewing O’Sullivan’s images was his inclusion of people; perhaps I had read it incorrectly, but I thought that Synder implied that O’Sullivan used footprints, or man-made objects to highlight human occupancy, yet I found many images with tiny figures (such as this image of the Shoshone Falls) in vast landscapes to highlight the power of nature. Synder wrote of how O’Sullivan showed how diminutive we are which is captured with the sole figure here, yet I also feel something else from O’Sullivan’s images, a search for solitude. I feel an aching sense of loneliness looking at the pictures, the places he photographs such as the Shoshone falls are so. A sole figure stands watching, swept up, almost undefinable in this magnificent vista. It is reminiscent of Caspar Friedrich’s works and makes me feel that compared to nature we are just passing echoes. We are visitors to this wonderful planet, blown by the wind in new directions. This landscape will remain forever yet we will not.