The oldest national park in the United States, Yellowstone is a natural wonder that continues to attract thousands of intrepid explorers every year. Since its discovery in the late 19th century, some of the world’s finest photographers have sought to capture Yellowstone’s vast expanse of wilderness in all its glory, from epic mountain ranges to tumbling waterfalls and gushing geysers. Many of the earliest photographs of Yellowstone have played a vital role in promoting, protecting and preserving the area’s natural and inimitable beauty. We take a look through just a handful of the most epic photographs that celebrate the almighty natural powerhouse that is Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone Canyon, William Henry Jackson, 1871
The pioneering American photographer William Henry Jackson was the first person to document the majestic landscape of Yellowstone, and his sublime imagery captured the imagination of the United States by showcasing aspects of the American landscape that had not been seen by great swathes of American society.
A keen photographer from a young age, Jackson started out as a retouching assistant in a photography studio in Troy, N.Y. during the 1860s. From there, he established his own photography studio in Nebraska in 1867, and when the U.S. Geological Survey team hired him to document America’s Wild West, he began producing the images that would make his career, including this evocative documentation of Yellowstone Canyon, taken in 1871. Jackson’s photographs played an instrumental role in persuading the American Congress to name Yellowstone the first United States national park in 1872.
Yellowstone Falls, John K Hillers, 1892
John Karl Hillers was a German immigrant in the United States, whose photography career began in 1871 while assisting John Wesley Powell during the survey of the Colorado River. After demonstrating great aptitude, he was hired by Powell in 1879 as the Smithsonian’s first staff photographer. From here, Hillers became chief photographer for the Geological Survey from 1881 to 1900. Like Jackson, Hillers was one of the earliest photographers to document the Grand Canyon region and in his early career he created a series of historically significant geological and geographical documents of the Yellowstone area, including this captivating shot of Yellowstone Falls. Hillers took on a series of ever more adventurous documentary projects in his later years, travelling widely throughout New Mexico and Arizona to document the settlements and inhabitants of these regions including the Hopi and Navaho tribes.
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Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, John K Hillers, 1892
Hillers spent much of his early career as a photographer documenting the expansive vistas and mountainous views of Yellowstone, as can be seen in this visually arresting image which looks down from above into the deep cavern of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon. He produced hundreds of images from his travels throughout the United States which brought lesser-known aspects of the American Wild West to public attention, and played a pivotal role in preserving this vast arena of unspoilt wilderness.
Old Faithful Geyser, Frank Jay Haynes, 1880s
American photographer Frank Jay Haynes dedicated much of his photographic career to documenting the American western territories, capturing both monumental scenery, and developments in railroads and industry. He visited the newly created Yellowstone National Park in 1881 and was so struck by its wonder he became a commercial photographer for Yellowstone, setting up a studio and photography gallery on site, from where he would sell his prints to tourists. This image documents the sheer magnitude of Old Faithful shooting its famed jet of water high into the air.
Mountains, N.E. Portion, Yellowstone National Park, Ansel Adams, 1942
One of the most sublime landscape photographers of all time, Ansel Adams captured wild America like it had never been seen before, with striking black and white imagery filled with awe and drama. In 1941 he was hired by the Department of Interior as an outside consultant to document the Native American reservations and national parks of the United States for a vast photomural project. Rising to the occasion, Adams packed up his kit and set off into the wild, producing an extensive body of work, including this image, which conveys the sheer, colossal scale in this vast stretch of land.