About the Work of Art:

William H. Jackson (1843–1942)
Chipeta Falls—Black Cañon of the Gunnison, 1883
Albumen silver print
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
P1971.94.23

 

William H. Jackson (1843–1942), Chipeta Falls—Black Cañon of the Gunnison, 1883, albumen silver print, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, P1971.94.23

 

 

 

 

Jackson was hired by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad after opening a studio in Denver in 1879. The railroad was laying track through the canyons of Colorado to connect the booming gold and silver mining areas. The railroad gave Jackson his own railroad car so he could produce spectacular mammoth plate photographs of the landscape and towns along the rail lines. The purpose was to entice tourists and prospective settlers. Railroad companies would hang Jackson’s large photographs in their stations to generate interest in travel to western locations. Jackson created scenic pictures like this through much of the 1880s.

The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad published a series of guidebooks that included wood engravings by Thomas Moran, derived from Jackson’s photographs. One of these books, Rhymes of the Rockies (1895), referred to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison as “beautiful, imposing, sublime, and awful” and as “solid walls of God’s masonry; walls that stand sheer two thousand feet in height and so close together that for most of the distance through the cañon only a streak of sky, sometimes in broad daylight, spangled with stars.” The guidebook was careful to also state that the canyon could be easily visited via the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Jackson’s photograph of the site during such an excursion verifies how comfortably travelers could view the gorge.

In Chipeta Falls—Black Cañon of the Gunnison, the relaxed, elegant, well-attired group admires the view from the back of their private train. By including people in the scene, Jackson gives a sense of scale, so viewers can comprehend the steepness of the canyon walls. Jackson emphasized the canyon’s dramatic setting with a camera angle that closes off the receding railroad tracks just beyond the front of the train engine and captures the curving Gunnison River, the textures of the rock formation, and the cascading waterfall.

Jackson created many of his finest photographs while working for the railroads, and these works provided most of his sales stock well into the twentieth century. These images record not only railroad operations in that era, but, just as importantly, the scenic locales and towns along the routes.

 

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