Carleton Watkins                    Man Without a Face


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          The only securely identified Watkins portrait dates from 1880 [Fig. 4 ], thirty years after his arrival on the West Coast, to which all earlier images claiming to represent Watkins must be compared in the quest for validation.  The camera exposure for this image was actually made by his Monterey teamster-friend Frank G. Anthony [Fig. 5], when they traveled together to Jacksonville around 1880. [5]  Anthony believed the mining equipment shown was the very gear Watkins first used when he tried his hand at placer mining around 1850.  The title "The Old Rocker" bears this out with the word "old" referring to olden times.  Even though he did not actually make the exposure, this picture falls into a pattern of unconventional self-portraits such as his mammoth-plate still life of his own mining gear [Fig 6].[6]    

          We know the general appearance of Watkins's face from a modern photograph of a skillfully carved cameo profile portrait [Fig. 7] that Watkins presented to his mother.[7] The cameo was possibly based on a now-lost photograph and shows a thin-faced man with high, prominent cheek bones, a balding head, and a beard trimmed to a long, narrow shape.  

          Based on the cameo image and the 1880 portrait it is possible to identify as Watkins a man seated in front of a tent filled with photo apparatus [8] made when he was on assignment for the Spring Valley Water Works at the newly formed Lake Pilarcitos in San Mateo County, California. 

          Lake Pilarcitos was the source of San Francisco's water supply, a stream-fed reservoir created in the early 1860s as the result of a new dam across Pilarcitos Creek located about twenty miles south of San Francisco.  Just one print from the stereo negative is recorded to survive (Leonard A. Walle Collection) and it is marked with Watkins's ink signature and the enigmatic title, "Shunshine" [Fig. 8].

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[5] According to information found on the verso of Watkins stereo no. 3542 formerly owned by the Anthony family with thanks to Julianne Burton-Carvajal. Stereo 3542 (Fig. 5) was made from the same negative as the cabinet size print shown in fig. 4.

[6] CMP, no. 68 .

[7] Peter E. Palmquist (1936-2003) saw the cameo about 1983; its present whereabouts is unknown. 

[8] Watkins Stereoview no. 925.