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The Triumph of Helios:
Photographic Treasures of the California State Library at California State University at Sacramento

View of I.W. Taber operating a special 60-inch focus camera in a field at Cloverdale, Sonoma County; telescope on a tripod behind Taber; Taber holding large box camera mounted on sawhorse frame; carrying cases and equipment on ground; oak trees in field behind him; white picket fence, houses in background in front of hills.

The California State Library’s priceless treasures, like its photographs of 19th century California landscapes and people, normally stay in the high security vault in the California State Library’s California History section.  Chief among these protected artifacts is the pioneer photography of legendary photographers like Eadweard J. Muybidge, the first man to photograph Yosemite.

View of Yosemite Falls from across the rim of the valley; shows man seated on rock in foreground with a tall tree at right; taken in 1872 and published in 1873. Muybridge.

Through June 24, thanks to the cooperative efforts of the California State Library (CSL), California State University of Sacramento (CSUS), and the California State Library Foundation, visitors can see the state’s earliest photography in Triumph of Helios: Photographic Treasures of the California State Library at University Library Gallery at California State University of Sacramento (CSUS).

As the Triumph of Helios showcases historic California’s images, it presents, according to CSL Curator of Special Collections Gary Kurutz, items that are “significant in the history of California photography.”  Triumph of Helios “pays homage to the photographers themselves” by presenting “a liberal sprinkling” from the CSL’s major single collections of photographers Carleton E. Watkins, Eadweard J. Muybridge, and other masters.

Because early photographic era works rarely survive, the saved treasures in Triumph of Helios offer, Kurutz writes in the exhibit catalogue, “a unique glimpse into the lives and working conditions of those men and women who did so much to preserve our historical memory.” Visitors to the CSUS Library can “inspect up close a Gold Rush daguerreotype, or to peer through a stereoscope to see magically Yosemite Valley’s Glacier Point in three-dimension” and consider “the difficulty of making a daguerreotype in the hot but gold-rich ravines of Placer County or the challenge of coating a 24 x 28 inch sheet of glass with light-sensitive chemicals while standing 3,000 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley.”

Eadweard Muybridge. Panorama of San Francisco from California Street Hill.  San Francisco: Morse Gallery, 1877.  The eleven panels measure 7 feet 6 inches.

Triumph of Helios offers a variety of media including silvery daguerreotypes, brown-toned ambrotypes, pannotypes, tintypes, albumen mammoth plate prints, stereographs, blue-toned cyanotypes, autochromes, and silvertones. The show displays prints made from wet and dry-plate negatives, flexible film negatives of all types, and elegantly framed glass positives. It also includes more obscure forms of photography such as the autochrome, orotone, glass positive, and even a wedding certificate adorned with actual tintypes.

Triumph of Helios: Photographic Treasures of the California State Library is open to the public through June 24, 2006 at University Library Gallery at CSUS.

For more information contact Gary Kurutz at (916) 653-0101 or email  

Gold Rush daguerreotypes and ambrotypes fill a display case in the University Library Gallery.  Above the display case is a four-part panorama of Monetery (circa 1882) by Carleton E. Watkins, one of the nation's great landscape photographers.





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