The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Destination: Niagara Falls
One of the top U.S. tourist destinations, Niagara Falls has been photographed countless times since the invention of photography in the nineteenth century, and referenced throughout pop culture, from Marilyn Monroe’s Niagara to the Woody Woodpecker Show. Today, with a little help from the internet, tourists can post their Niagara experience for all to see. Currently, a search for “Niagara Falls” on Flickr results in over 330,000 photographs. Looking back to the nineteenth century, advances in transportation opened access to western New York. By 1841, steam-powered trains carried passengers from New York to Niagara Falls in as little as forty-eight hours. In this same year, M.H.L. Pattinson made the first daguerreotype of the waterfall, according to Anthony Bannon in the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-century Photography, 2008. About nine years later, Platt D. Babbitt set up shop, as the first “resident photographer on the American side.” As seen in the above image, he photographed visitors as they stood by the edge, and then sold the resulting daguerreotypes as souvenirs. Bannon writes that “Babbitt…is among the first to make a photograph to enhance a tourist’s experience.” And shutters have been clicking in Niagara ever since!
Christin Boggs is an Intern at the Smithsonian Photography Initiative.