In 1861, photographer Carleton E. Watkins lugged his custom-made oversized camera, designed to shoot on unusually large glass plate negatives, measuring 18 by 22 inches, to Yosemite in California. It was roughly 2,000 pounds of photography equipment that went with him, on the backs of mules, through the challenging terrain. His “mammoth” photos, using a difficult wet-collodion process, of such wonders as El Capitan, Mariposa Grove, and Cathedral Rocks, revealed an exquisite bit of Eden to viewers, especially those on the East Coast. “These earliest photographs of Yosemite resulted in a body of work that was to shape one of the early acts of environmentalism in U.S. policy,” writes Bob Ahern, Getty Images’ Director of Archive Photography, in an email. It was believed that the images of Yosemite influenced President Lincoln to sign the Yosemite Valley Grant Act in 1864, which protected the land to “be held for public use, resort, and recreation,” and would lay the foundation of the country’s National Park System.

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