Cathedral Rock Yosemite Valley 8×10

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Carleton Watkins took this photograph in 1861 of the Cathedral Rocks in Yosemite. Images like this played an integral role in preserving the Yosemite we know and love. This image and its counterparts were some of the first glimpses Easterners ever had of Yosemite National Park, and Watkins' ability to capture the park's majestic quality prompted President Lincoln to set aside the land for federal protection in 1864. Cathedral Rocks is particularly inspiring; it's hard not to stare in awe at the monolithic presence of the rocks emerging from the tree line, which, while ancient, also recalls the familiarity of a modern skyscraper. Though the photo is black and white, Carleton achieves masterful contrasts between foreground, middle ground and background, highlighting his impressive expertise in capturing depth. It's curious, then, that this image takes on a collage-like quality. Despite being a completely natural setting, there's a measure of artifice which is enticing and beguiling.