This essay examines the significance of landscape photography in the birth of environmentalism. In particular, this essay considers how Carleton Watkins' 1860s photographs of Yosemite Valley created both a way of viewing the American landscape and a representational vocabulary for environmentalist claims to public preservation. In understanding these images as rhetorical, this essay offers a sustained exploration of the political and cultural effects of visual rhetoric. This exploration constitutes critical intervention in a number of discourses. Most obviously, this work is contributing to a growing literature in several disciplines that treats images as integral to politics. Additionally, this work is also adopting the cultural studies position of considering politics in its most encompassing sense and accounting for its multiple manifestations. Most importantly, in unearthing an episode in the history of the construction of pristine wilderness as the sublime object of environmentalism, this essay interrupts the mainstream environmental discourse that pays homage to the wilderness icon without paying heed to the political and cultural costs of such devotion.
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