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Prints and Authors in the Time of Manet

James Abbott McNeill Whistler
American, 1834–1903

The Three Brothers, 4,480 ft., Yosemite

Albumen silver print, about 1861
Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1981.125

The Yosemite Indian name for the geologic formation in this photograph is Pom-pom-pa-sus (Mountains playing Leapfrog). The modern name Three Brothers refers to the unusual shape of the formation and to the three sons of the Yosemite chief Tenaya, who were captured at the foot of these rocks by the Mariposa Battalion in 1851. One son was killed while trying to escape.
Watkin’s mammoth photographs of the Yosemite region, some as large as 18 x 22 inches, were produced using a large view camera and glass plate negatives. At the time this photograph was made, the standard technique was the wet colloid process. Light-sensitive chemicals were applied to the surface of the glass plates by the photographer. While still wet, the glass plate was placed in the camera and the exposure was made. The plates were then developed immediately before the plate dried. Early photographers like Watkins had to take their equipment, chemicals, and darkroom wherever they went.
The extraordinary beauty of Watkin’s Yosemite photographs so impressed President Lincoln and Congress that efforts were begun to preserve the landscape. In 1890 Yosemite Valley was formally declared a National Park.