Cape Horn near Celilo

Carleton E. Watkins American

Not on view

When Watkins traveled up the Columbia River, he photographed both the natural and manmade landmarks-the rocky outcrops and cascades, and the small towns, mills, and docks along the way. His path followed that of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company, and as he photographed not only the company's route but also its facilities, he may have been working either on commission or with a speculative eye for the company's business. One hundred miles upstream from Portland, Celilo was the farthest reach of Watkins' travels during the four-month excursion. It would be easy to surmise that the centrality of the rails in this photograph is evidence of Watkins' business agenda. But in the absence of confirming data, one might instead interpret the picture as a visual metaphor for Manifest Destiny, the belief that the United States was destined to span the continent with its sovereignty. The artful balance Watkins achieves between nature and man's incursion into nature-between the valley etched in the land by the river and the railroad laid down alongside it-suggests that whether he saw Cape Horn as a commercial opportunity or as a symbolic representation of a national doctrine, he also recognized it as a providential place of aesthetic and moral harmony that provided the opportunity for a pictorial expression of a perfect state of grace.

Cape Horn near Celilo, Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829–1916), Albumen silver print from glass negative

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.