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Carleton E. Watkins

The Three Brothers, Yosemite
about 1865-1866, printed after 1875
albumen print
12 1/2 x 8 1/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

The “three brothers“—a nickname for the knobby peaks that loom above Yosemite Valley—are almost apparitions, yet in the lake’s reflection they are curiously vivid. This is not darkroom trickery but, instead, science: distant objects are seen through layers of atmosphere that diffuse their appearance, whereas close-up objects like the lake’s surface do not suffer the same fate. The depression of 1875 left Watkins bankrupt and his negatives were taken over by the firm of Isaiah Taber, hence the inscription at the bottom of the photograph.