An American Eden? The Yosemite Valley, 1872

During the summer of 1872, Muybridge interrupted his first attempts to photograph horses in motion by returning to the Yosemite Valley for five months. His aim was to create a set of views to rival those of his contemporary, Carleton Watkins. He adopted a mammoth-plate camera using glass negatives measuring 18 by 22 inches, the largest size then available. A small team helped to transport his equipment the two hundred miles from San Francisco, but his packers refused to accompany him to some of his proposed vantage points.

Eadweard Muybridge Valley of the Yosemite. From Mosquite Camp. Plate 22 1872

Eadweard Muybridge
Valley of the Yosemite. From Mosquite Camp. Plate 22 1872

© Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Muybridge seems to have pursued his subjects with a determination that bordered on the obsessive, as the Daily Alta California later reported: ‘he has cut down trees by the score that interfered with the cameras from the best point of sight; he had himself lowered by ropes down precipices to establish his instruments in places where the full beauty of the object to be photographed could be transferred to the negative’. In all he made over 500 photographs that year, many issued as stereocards. His greatest achievement was the sequence of 51 mammoth plates, which earned him a medal at the 1873 International Exhibition in Vienna.