I’m spotlighting the new apexart exhibition "The Permanent Way" on The Modern Art Notes Podcast this week. The exhibition looks at at the continuing impact of the railroads on the way American artists look at landscape. The exhibition is on view through July 28.
One of the topics I cover with each of my two guests — curator Brian Sholis and artist Mark Ruwedel — is the impact 19th-century photographers such as Carleton Watkins had on the railroad, tourism and on migration to the West. Many of the big railroads, such as the Union Pacific, employed photographers to help promote their lines. Their pictures were widely disseminated in the media, through fairs and exhibitions and anywhere else the railroads could share them.
Watkins didn’t do a lot of work directly for the railroads, but he was related to Big Four boss Collis P. Huntington and he certainly worked in their orbit. One of Watkins’s few apparently explicit railroad commissions was this picture, which he took late in his career for the Southern Pacific. It shows the Tehachapi Loop, one of the marvels of 19th-century railroad engineering. Watkins emphasized The Loop by etching it onto his negative.
This and other late Watkins pictures were discussed on Episode No. 8 of The MAN Podcast, when Watkins expert Jennifer A. Watts of The Huntington Library joined me. It’s one of my favorite shows.
Image; Carleton Watkins, The Loop, c. 1878. Click here to see a much larger scan via Calisphere. Collection of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.