Peter Goin is a Foundation Professor of Art in photography/Time Based Media (videography) at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is the author of many books exploring paradigms of the American landscape, including most recently A New Form of Beauty: Glen Canyon Beyond Climate Change coauthored with Peter Friederici.
R.J. Water’s Early Photography at Lake Tahoe
From the top of Red Lake Peak, now called Carson Pass, at the south end of the Tahoe Basin, the explorer John Charles Frémont made the first known sighting on February 14, 1844 of what is now Lake Tahoe. Today, the resilient essence of South Lake Tahoe, from its brisk mountain air to the profound clarity of its deep waters, is a cornerstone of an evolving tourist economy. From the exploitation of logging to the privileged practice of nature worship, Lake Tahoe’s story chronicles the evolution from an industrial environment to a tourist destination based upon the intrinsic mountain beauty of the place and its climate. Producing pairs of historical photographs and their contemporary view from nearly the same location, what is revealed is that Lake Tahoe is inalterably changing, yet conforming as much as possible to the landscape early poets, visionaries, and health-seekers envisioned.
This project was designed to research the private papers, documents, artifacts, and photographs of R. J. Waters (1855-1937), a professional photographer in California, Nevada, and Utah. His work began around 1886 and his commercial work was relatively well established in the San Francisco Bay area in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, many of Waters’ negatives and photographs were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, which makes searching for remnants and remaining images increasingly important. This project focused on his work in the Lake Tahoe basin, searching the archival materials at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and the California Historical Society’s North Baker Research Library. This award also supported conducting research at repositories in Portland, Oregon, specifically, at the Oregon Historical Society, which has selected artifacts, memorabilia, and photographs. The goal of this project was to examine Waters’ less-formal photographs and his family dairies.
A number of R. J. Waters’ photographs of Lake Tahoe will be published in the Nature of Lake Tahoe volume, and also in the succeeding volume, Re-Visiting Tahoe, both under contract with the University of New Mexico Press. The second volume will include dramatic rephotographs of the 1916 Shoreline Survey plus significant photographs from late 19th to early 20th century photographers such as R. J. Waters. It will blend history from the black & white past to the color present, time, photography, and landscape change in remarkable ways.