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George Fiske: Spirit Land, Yosemite – The American Museum of Photography: Masterworks

George Fiske: Spirit Land, Yosemite – The American Museum of Photography: Masterworks

George Fiske (U.S., 1835-1918): “Spirit Land. Up the Valley.”

Albumen print,4.5 x 7.5 inches, circa 1880

George Fiske was the first photographer to be a year-round resident of Yosemite; this is arguably the most dramatic of his many superb studies of that spectacular valley.

To Ansel Adams–himself a longtime resident of Yosemite Valley–the photographs of George Fiske have special meaning. For as a young man in the 1920s, he made many prints from the Fiske negatives acquired by the Yosemite Company from the estate. These represented only a part of Fiske’s lifework, for in 1904 three-quarters of his negatives, his cameras, his lenses and a large part of his stock of prints were destroyed in a fire that consumed his house and studio. In the thirties, Adams became much concerned with the safety of the remaining negatives, for they were carelessly kept in the attic of the company’s sawmill. His suggestion that they be stored in the fireproof basement of the new museum building was ignored. In 1943 the sawmill burned to the ground; all that were left of Fiske’s negatives were destroyed. “If that hadn’t happened,” Adams stated, “Fiske could have been revealed today, I firmly believe, as a top photographer, a top interpretive photographer. I really can’t get excited at Watkins and Muybridge–I do get excited at Fiske. I think he had the better eye.”

–Beaumont Newhall, “Preface,” in George Fiske, Yosemite Photographer by Paul Hickman and Terence Pitts (Northland Press, Flagstaff, Arizona in cooperation with the Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona: 1980)


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