Natural Wonders of the American Landscape Featured in New Photography Exhibition

Posted on May 2nd, 2018

Natural Wonders of the American Landscape Featured in New Photography Exhibition

-”Photographing Nature’s Cathedrals” showcases three nineteenth-century photographers who used cutting-edge technology of the time to capture the natural wonders of the country

Milwaukee, Wis. – May 1, 2018 – Visitors to the Milwaukee Art Museum will have the opportunity to see some of the first photographs of beloved American natural landscapes in the upcoming exhibition Photographing Nature’s Cathedrals: Carleton E. Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge and H. H. Bennett from May 18 – August 26, 2018.

The three photographers in the exhibition used the cutting-edge photographic technology of their time to record the natural wonders of Yosemite Valley and the Wisconsin Dells. Their photographs helped create the myth of the American West, attracted tourists to the Dells region of Wisconsin and inspired the federal land grant that would lead to the creation of Yosemite National Park.

“These photographers brought images of America’s natural landmarks to the public—they helped create the idea of these places as tourist destinations,” said Ariel Pate, Assistant Curator of Photography at the Milwaukee Art Museum and curator of the exhibition. “Bennett’s photographs of the Wisconsin Dells parallel how Watkins and Muybridge’s photographs of Yosemite spread awareness of that unique valley—and I’m excited for our visitors to see the connection between these regional and national histories.”

The exhibition looks at how photographs by Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829–1916), Eadweard Muybridge (American, b. England, 1830–1904) and Henry Hamilton Bennett (American, b. Canada, 1843–1908) helped preserve and promote the natural beauty of the American landscape.  Watkins was among the first to take “mammoth”-sized photographs of Yosemite, and the valley was preserved, in part, due to the impact of his photographs. Muybridge’s works, which were sometimes manipulated using proto-”Photoshop” techniques, also inspired tourists to visit the valley. Bennett’s photographs and stereographs—an early form of three-dimensional photography—helped to promote the Wisconsin Dells as a natural wonder and boosted interest in the area, creating what is today a booming tourism economy and Wisconsin’s largest tourist destination.

The exhibition draws on, in part, the remarkable landscape photography holdings in the collection of the American Geographical Society (AGS) Library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and represents a continuation of the Museum’s longstanding collaboration with the library. Visitors will see material from the library’s collection that is rarely exhibited locally or regionally in such depth.

“Whether someone is interested in landscape photography, the beauty of nature or technology and innovation in the 1800s, visitors will love this exhibition,” said Amanda C. Peterson, Director of Marketing and Communications, Milwaukee Art Museum. “So I’m excited Photographing Nature’s Cathedrals will be one of the main attractions of this month’s MAM After Dark on the first day it’s open, May 18th. The grown up summer camp theme is perfect for bringing together the typical party atmosphere with these remarkable works. ”

Photographing Nature’s Cathedrals will be on view in the Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts. Established in 2015, the Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts presents an integrated exhibition space dedicated to photography and the related media of film, video and light installation. Named for the Herzfeld Foundation, whose generous support has made this center possible, these galleries reflect the important legacy the foundation has built for photography at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Organized, in part, from the collection of the American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Presenting Sponsor:
In Memory of Joan W. Nason

Supporting Sponsor:
James A. Schleif and William H. Morley

Exhibitions in the Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts are sponsored by the Herzfeld Foundation and Madeleine and David Lubar.

Exhibition Events:

All events take place at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Gallery Talks
Free with Museum admission, free for Museum Members
Tuesdays, 1:30 p.m.

June 5: with Ariel Pate, assistant curator of photography

July 10: Photography and Geology, with Drs. Julia Bowles and Dyanna M. Czeck of UW-Milwaukee’s geosciences department

July 24: H. H. Bennett, Dells Photographer, with Betsy Grant, great-granddaughter of H. H. Bennett and the author of The Bennett Story: The Life and Work of Henry Hamilton Bennett

Aug 21: The American Landscape in Photographs and Paintings, with Ariel Pate, assistant curator of photography, and Brandon Ruud, Abert Family Curator of American Art


Co-organized with the Chipstone Foundation
Free with Museum admission and for Museum Members, but space is limited—RSVP to studycenter@mam.org.

Thurs, July 12, 6:15 p.m.: A Stereoscopic Excursion to the Dells of the Wisconsin River, with curator Ariel Pate

Sat, July 21, 3 p.m.: Ho-Chunk Objects: Souvenirs of Bennett’s Wisconsin Dells, with Kendra Greendeer of the Little Eagle Arts Foundation

Social Event

MAM After Dark: Grown-Up Summer Camp
$14/$12 in advance/free for Museum Members
May 18, 7 p.m.–11 p.m.
Presented by Northwestern Mutual
Evening Sponsor: Summerfest

*Exhibition photos available upon request


About the American Geographical Society (AGS) Library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Founded in the 1850s, the library contains maps, atlases, books, periodicals, photos and a large collection of geospatial data. The AGS Library supports research and inquiry into a variety of disciplines from film history to geography. Worldwide in coverage, items date from the 15th century to the present. The AGS Library offers scholarly programs for the UWM campus and local community and welcomes visiting scholars from around the world.