Eadweard Muybridge is one of many photographers who documented the American West at the end of the 19th century. Indeed photography played a key role in the development of the region and its influence on American identity. In the 1860s, Muybridge, Carleton Watkins, and Charles Leander Weed competed to produce awe-inspiring photographs of Yosemite Valley, a site that symbolized the promise of the frontier. Their pictures served both to generate support for the foundation of national parks and to satisfy a growing audience for photographic prints.
This photograph by Muybridge shows Yosemite's Vernal Falls emerging from a sheer cliff face. There is no visible horizon and the pictorial space is quite flat, resulting in a very modern-looking image. Because of the long exposure time, the waterfall appears as a light-filled volume, a representation of dimensional space occupied through time. In contrast to the rock-solid cliffs, water is portrayed here within a different aesthetic framework; its flow is not so much documented as poetically evoked.