"Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven
when we're shown a photograph of it." (
, page 5)
Photographer Carleton Emmons Watkins (1829-1916)
The Grizzly Giant and Mariposa Grove, 33 ft. diam. (Yosemite Valley, California
Created 1861-1866; NYPL Digital Gallery, Digital ID: 435051; albumen print); See also Digital ID: g89f323_005f and g89f323_006f stereoscopic views
Part of the Trunk of the Grizzly Giant (Mariposa, California)
negative 1861; albumen print about 1866) The J. Paul Getty Trust
Photographer James Balog
Giant Sequoia (
), "Stagg," Camp Nelson, California
. Photographed 2004.
Watkins' photograph of this enormous Giant Sequoia tree is one of the early pictures of the most massive tree species on Earth. The tree commands the gaze of the viewer, as it dwarfs the surrounding conifers of the forest, including the adjacent burned out bole of a once equally massive Sequoia. The deceased giant survived for some two millennia before ultimately succumbing to natural disaster. The grizzly appearance of the Giant is the consequence of two millennia of input of energy into wood, as seen in the bole of the tree and in its massive branches. The branches reach out in all directions, and the tree seems capable of leaning forward and snatching up the unwary observer. This wizened giant is showing every bit of its age. The nearby remnant of a giant is snapped off and hollowed out in spite of its inherent qualities of fire resistance and rot resistance. An old hunter with rifle in hand stands at the base of the living tree. Watkins' photographic title refers equally well to this grizzled Californian. (Watkins had particular interest in the imagery of this massive tree with a human subject standing at its base, making several different versions of this scene over a period of years.) Together, the living grizzly giants stand in a gap in the forest created through time by the light-gathering canopy of the huge tree. The human presence in this photograph would be insignificant, were it not for the capacity of man, having discovered this relic of an ancient time, to display it as a champion biological trophy, then fell the tree for extractive use, for its rot-resistant lumber.
Watkins' vantage point for this photograph was necessarily some distance from the base of the tree in order for him to capture in one image its full height. The unobstructed view of the tree may have been the consequence of its having survived the natural fire that claimed neighboring trees. Alternatively, the surrounding trees recently have been logged out of the forest. If so, Watkins must have had an ominous foreboding of the demise of the Giant by a rapacious logging industry. The shorter, younger trees in the photo have a much greater percentage of growth in soft needles. They have centuries of growth ahead of them before they can approach the stateliness and grandeur of the Giant. In this old-growth forest, airy brightness is found above and beyond the giant, while the forest floor is dark and shadowy. One must wonder how the Earth from which this sparsely needled giant springs can nourish and water its great height and girth. This photograph documents the existence of huge trees that Easterners could scarcely comprehend or believe from written narratives.
The massive Giant Sequoia tree in Balog's photograph represents a trophy of a different sort. Here, the trophy hunter is a rope-climbing expert who is in the forest neither to hunt game nor to extract valuable biomass in the form of lumber. The climber is seen early in his ascent of the tree and near the top of a 60-foot-high fire scar, and he is present again having reached his destination in the uppermost crown of the tree. Photographer Balog used more than 400 individual photographs in assembling the composite photo of the "Amos Alonzo Stagg Tree," the fifth largest tree in the world in terms of total volume. The Stagg Tree is the largest Sequoia tree growing on private lands. All Sequoias larger than the Stagg Sequoia are found in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The sign at the base of the Sequoia reads, "Giant Redwood Dedicated to/Amos Alonzo Stagg/in his 99th year 1960/Cir 25 DBH Est. Age 3000 Yrs/Jordan Mt. Peak." An All-American offensive and defensive end on Yale University's 1889 football team and the originator of the five-man basketball team, Stagg was called the "grand old man" of college football. He lived to be 102 years old. Dedicating this Sequoia to Stagg recognizes yet another grizzly giant in the forest. The technological advances of climbing and of photography have permitted Balog to produce an image of a massive tree that is as sharp and in scale at the top as it is at the base.
Photographer Carleton Emmons Watkins (1829-1916)
Section of the Grizzly Giant, 33 ft diameter, Mariposa Grove, Mariposa County, Cal.
Digital ID: g89f323_011f, New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Created date 1867-1874, stereoscopic view