Yosemite, the Grand Experiment

Yosemite National Park

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Transcript of excerpt from Ted Orland’s presentation in Yosemite, the Grand Experiment exhibit:

As a photographer, I find it really intriguing that Yosemite—which is assuredly one of the most-photographed landscapes on the face of the earth—was never actually visited by westerners at least until after the invention of photograph. Before 1864 no one had ever—ever—set aside a piece of natural wilderness purely and simply for the purpose of preserving it in pristine condition. At that point in time—1864—even though the Indians had been here forever, less than 600 westerners had ever even visited Yosemite. So here you have something of no particular value—apparently—commercially, and which very few people had seen and which Senator Conness is somehow going to convince Congress to set aside for the first time in history, in an unprecedented manner, as a national preserve. One of the ways that he accomplished this was that he carried with him a bundle of Carleton Watkins’ mammoth plate photographs made during Watkins 1861 trip to Yosemite and those were set up on display in one of the cloakrooms of the congressional building where people could come by and look and this seemed to be all it took. He introduced a bill in March and by the end of June Abraham Lincoln signed the bill that created the Yosemite Grant. What the Yosemite Grant did was to put the idea of preserving the wilderness in a legal framework which became the basis seven years later for the creation of Yellowstone National Park.


Photographer Ted Orland speaks about the importance of photography in Yosemite's early history.