MUYBRIDGE, Eadweard James (1830-1904)
Yowiye Falls. Valley of the Yosemite
San Francisco: Bradley & Rulofson, [1872; printed 1873]. Mammoth plate albumen photograph, mounted onto the photographer's lettered card mount. Image size: 17 x 21 1/2 inches. Sheet size: 24 3/8 x 29 1/2 inches. Minor repairs at edges of card mount.
Rare mammoth-plate photograph of Yosemite by Muybridge.
"Muybridge was justifiably celebrated as a landscape photographer for his series of mammoth-plate Yosemite views made [between June and December] in 1872 and offered for sale by Bradley and Rulofson in 1873. These fifty one ambitious photographs were made in direct competition with C.E. Watkins's equally acclaimed views of 1861-1866." Muybridge's 1872 Yosemite photographs were "his most significant and last extensive body of landscape photographs. Drama was the foremost quality in Muybridge's esthetic, and he continued to place heavy emphasis on unique points of view to achieve dramatic intensity" (Naef). As an artist, Muybridge is acclaimed not only for his compositions, but also his deliberate choice of points of view, which were often contrary with the realities of the difficult terrain.
Comparisons between the Yosemite photographs of Muybridge and Watkins, both today and even at the time, are and were inevitable. They are perhaps summed up best by Naef, who describes the two photographers "as different as romanticism and classicism" and elsewhere as "painterly" (Muybridge) versus "sharp focus precision" (Watkins). In this image by Muybridge, as in many of his images depicting the various falls of Yosemite, the soft focus of the background enhances the raging power of water as a backdrop for the serenity of the rocks and stream in the foreground.
Muybridge announced his intentions in a May 1872 prospectus which sought financial support for the Yosemite project prior to his expedition: "I am encouraged in this undertaking from the generally expressed opinion, especially of our best Art Critics, that although many carefully large-size photographs of our scenery have already been published, yet the wonderful improvement in the science of photographic manipulation, and a judicious selection of points of view, with an aim at the highest artistic treatment of the subject affords, will result in a more complete realization than has hitherto been accomplished of the vast grandeur and pictorial beauty for which our State and Coast have so world-wide a reputation" (quoted in Hood and Haas). The prospectus continues by advertising the sale of 40 mammoth prints (selected by the subscriber from the fifty-one) for $100; individual images sold to non-subscribers would be at a higher price.
Although Muybridge produced over 500 negatives between June and November 1872 in various formats, only fifty-one views were produced in mammoth format (17 x 21 inches from his mammoth 20 x 24 inch negatives). These impressive large scale views immediately attracted national and international acclaim and Muybridge was awarded the Vienna Medal in 1874. Despite this attention it would appear that far fewer were sold, or have survived than those of his competitor Carleton Watkins. Writing of the 1872 mammoth-plate photographs, Hood and Haas conclude: "These magnificent landscape compositions stand alone, as the peak of Muybridge's Yosemite contribution."
Naef, Era of Exploration , (Albright Knox Art Gallery/Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975) pp. 167-200; Hood and Haas, "Eadweard Muybridge's Yosemite Valley Photographs" in The California Historical Society Quarterly, March 1963, pp. 5-26.