This essay by historian Matthew Klingle compares the work of Carleton Watkins, a pioneer in early photography, and Michael Kolster, a contemporary photographer. Like his predecessor, Kolster uses the wet-plate photographic process to create ambrotypes: handmade images made on glass. Watkins’s images, made in the late-nineteenth century, helped to sell scenic, monumental California and the West to the nation. In contrast, Kolster’s photographs of the Los Angeles River, a degraded and often ignored urban waterway, suggest how older photographic techniques might be employed to create new aesthetics of place freed from the confines of purity and beauty.
River Glass: Photographs by Michael Kolster
Matthew Klingle is associate professor of history and environmental studies at Bowdoin College and the author of Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle. His teaching and research interests include the North American West, environmental history, urban history, and public health.
Michael Kolster is associate professor of art at Bowdoin College. A 2013 Guggenheim Fellow, he is currently working on a project depicting several American rivers, with a book due out next year.
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Matthew Klingle; River Glass: Photographs by Michael Kolster. Boom 1 June 2015; 5 (2): 42–51. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/boom.2015.5.2.42
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