William Henry Jackson Mammoth Albumen

picture
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Landscaped image by famous west photographer William Henry Jackson. Titled in the negative, yet fading away, the image is numbered 421 and shows a lake or river from over a canyonside. Measures 10 x 13 on its original gray mount. With some foxing.

William Henry Jackson (1843 - 1942) was an American photographer and adventurer famous for his images of the American west.

After his boyhood in New England, Jackson fought in the American Civil War, including the battle of Gettysburg, then headed west on the Oregon Trail. In 1869 he won the commission from the Union Pacific Railroad to document the scenery along their route for promotional reasons, and the following year Jackson got a last-minute invitation to join the U.S. government survey party led by Ferdinand Hayden. Hayden's surveys were annual multidisciplinary expeditions meant to chart the largely-unexplored west, observe flora, fauna, and geological conditions, and identify likely navigational routes, so Jackson was in a unique position to capture the first photographs of legendary landmarks of the west.

Jackson worked in large format under conditions that were laughably difficult. He traveled with three cameras, and fragile, heavy 11' x 14' glass plates which he had to develop on site. These wet-collodion negatives required preparing the surface and keeping it wet before the exposure; focus and exposure times were guesswork, between five seconds and twenty minutes depending on light conditions. Preparing, exposing, fixing, washing then drying a single image would take the better part of an hour. He carried his equipment on the backs of mules. The weight of the glass plates and his portable darkroom limited the number of possible exposures on any one trip, and these images were taken in primitive, roadless, and physically challenging conditions. Once when his mule lost its footing, Jackson lost a month's work.

Despite these difficulties Jackson came back with photographic evidence of western landmarks that had previously seemed fantastic rumor: the Grand Tetons, Old Faithful and the rest of Yellowstone, Colorado's Rockies and the Mount of the Holy Cross, and the uncooperative Ute Indians. Jackson's photographs of Yellowstone helped convince Congress to make it the first National Park in March 1872.

Jackson became famous and continued traveling on the Hayden Surveys until the last one in 1878. Jackson died at the age of 99, honored as one of the last surviving Civil War veterans, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

$500  No. 3132
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