Pristine California

By

Seen from the vantage point of this blank grave, and the ruin that came before it, Watkins’ life feels like something out of Dreiser. Seen from its beginning—the summers in Oneonta, the trip West with his best friend—it reads like a story by Mark Twain. Neither version offers the full truth. Watkins was an artist, someone who discovered his vocation by accident but then pursued it with a restless and indefatigable enthusiasm. He knew he had the ability to see more than anyone else. He went to great lengths to see even more. Even to the tops of mountains.

Pacific Standard has a short biography on Carleton Watkins who photographed California when it was still pristine and before he lost himself to insanity.


Lyz's writing has been published in the New York Times Motherlode, Jezebel, Aeon, Pacific Standard, and others. Her book on midwestern churches is forthcoming from Indiana University Press. She has her MFA from Lesley and skulks about on Twitter @lyzl. Lyz is a member of The Rumpus Advisory Board and a full-time staff writer for the Columbia Journalism Review. More from this author →