The Wreck of the Viscata
Albumen silver print
Image: 15 11/16 x 20 11/16 in.
Sheet: 15 11/16 x 20 11/16 in.
Mount: 21 3/4 x 26 3/4 in.
l.c. in ink: The Wreck of the Viscata
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
How does an artist's choice of medium and materials impact an artwork?
What artistic choices does a photographer make when creating an image?
How is the archetypal theme of human versus nature depicted in works of art?
How do artists convey tone?
How does an artwork enrich and influence the telling of history?
What do you observe? What do you believe is the focus of this image?
This photograph is titled The Wreck of the Viscata. It was taken in 1868 at the shipwreck of the Viscata, which intended to travel from San Francisco to Liverpool with wheat but became beached on Fort Point after passing through the Golden Gate strait.
What is happening on the beach at the moment of this photograph? How active is the shipwreck in this image? (Have students note evidence of the photographer within the photograph including a camera, horse-drawn supply wagon, and darkroom tent near the midline. For the ability to zoom in closely, please see the Carter’s collection on Google Arts and Culture.)
How would you describe the setting? Why do you believe the artist included the mountains, water, and beach, rather than focusing solely on the ship? What impact do you believe the natural environment of this setting had on the events that occurred?
What is the tone of this scene? What choices did the photographer make to create that tone?
Why do you believe Carleton Watkins chose to create this photograph? How does viewing a photograph of an event differ from reading about it?
Have students write a newspaper article informing readers of the wreck of the Viscata. Using Carleton Watkin’s photograph to inform their account, students should take care to communicate enough detail for readers to get a full impression of the event. Students should also consider how their word choice affects the tone of their article.
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