Niagara Falls
Mark D. Whitney
Digital Photograph

Niagara Falls Four Ways

I was reminded of Niagara Falls the other day when I was watching a food travel show on TV that had a segment on Buffalo, NY. Of course they wedged in a few shots of the iconic falls since it’s right next door. So I decided to post one of my falls photos alongside some images done by other artists for a fun little comparison.

If you’ve ever been to the falls in season, you know what it’s like. It’s nuts. Huge crowds and lots of traffic. Balloons, helicopters, and airplanes flying over the gorge. Boats running the river. Streets full of carnival attractions and food stands, hotels and casinos, a massive Ferris wheel. It’s hot. It’s noisy. It’s like a gigantic 24×7 amusement park with a waterfall in the middle of it.

Still, the actual falls are something to see, even with all the hoopla surrounding them. They’re stupendously amazingly wildly huge.

Stand at the edge of the gorge and lean on the railing and everything else disappears. The incredible amount of water rushing by fills your entire field of vision. The roaring and hissing and crashing and splashing creates a sort of cone of silence that blocks out all other sounds. You can feel the power of the water. It’s mesmerizing.

I often wonder what it must have been like to be a Native American or European explorer seeing it for the first time. Back when the place was surrounded by nothing but trees. Hearing the sound and seeing the mist rising into the air for miles as you walk along and then finally stepping out of the forest and it opens up before you. No barriers, no railings, no buildings – just stone and water and mist. Cool.

The featured image is a photograph I took a few years ago. I can’t remember the exact place I was standing, but it was on the American side and it was in November. [I like to go to the falls early or late in the year to avoid the crowds. Later is usually better since they close off some parts of the park during the winter and it takes a while for them to open up in the spring.]

These other images are all done before 1900. One is a print, one is a drawing, and one is a photograph.

The drawing and the print really tone down the water’s violence a heap. The Bennett print shows a few guys out for a row boat pleasure cruise in front of happy cotton candy waterfalls. The Gignoux drawing takes a perspective that just makes them look small, distant, and quiet. I wonder why. I guess the real thing isn’t idyllic enough.

Niagara Falls from the American Side
William James Bennett after John Robert Murray
American, born England, 1787 – 1844
Niagara Falls from the American Side, published 1840
hand-colored aquatint with touches of engraving
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon
Niagara Falls
Régis François Gignoux
American, born France, 1816 – 1882
Niagara Falls
graphite and white gouache on green-gray wove paper
John Davis Hatch Collection
Niagara Falls, 1899
William D. Murphy
American, 1834 – 1932
Niagara Falls, 1899
photogravure in sepia on chine collé mounted on cream wove paper


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