Carleton Watkins                                A Delicate Balance


Previous Page                                                                                 Next Page


The key reference point for grasping the itinerary and divergent objectives of the sponsor and his associate are descriptions in the “Catalog”[6] of some of the resulting daguerreotypes.[7]  We have proposed that Vance’s inherited wealth caused him to put photography as a lower priority than his other business and personal interests, just as had been his pattern in Chile.  He was thus enabled to be the financial backer[8] of the project that resulted in the legendary three hundred daguerreotypes put “On exhibition at No. 349 Broadway, (Opposite the Carleton House)”[9]  in New York City a year later. [Fig. 2]. Vance spelled “Carleton” with an “e”, the same unorthodox spelling used by Carleton Watkins and his namesake, Carleton Emmons.  This could be a sly veiled reference by Vance to his talented and industrious camera operator.

As financier of the project, Vance would have become owner of the California daguerreotypes and was free to attach his name to the pictures as he saw fit.  However, on the title page of the “Catalog”, Vance did not claim to be maker of the daguerreotypes, just their cataloger and publisher.  It was natural for early commentators to assume Vance was also the maker of the daguerreotypes, an assumption to which he did not demur.[10]  In Chapter Twelve we will show why it was not logistically possible for Vance to be in San Francisco and the Mother Lode at the same time.  For now let us point to a few textual clues why Vance was not the maker of the daguerreotypes he cataloged. 

There was no legal requirement for Carleton to be credited as maker since his role was to perform “work for hire”[11] and thus no acknowledgement of his creative role in the enterprise was required, although there was a moral obligation to do so.  In 1850, there were no practical ways to reproduce photographs mechanically, and the small book was not illustrated.  Moreover, copyright as we know it had not yet been applied to photographs, and the concept of “work for hire” was just being established.[12] 


Next Page

[6] The word “Catalog” is used with quotes because the publication fails to meet the standard definition of such a publication (see Chapter Ten).

[7] Peter E. Palmquist, “A Daguerreian Holy Grail,” in Johnson & Eyman (1998), p. 59.

[8] Peter Palmquist described Vance as, “A true entrepreneur [whose] business holdings included ranches, mines, billiard parlors, and even city buildings.  Plus he was a money lender,” in The Daguerrerreian Annual 1991, p. 199.  Moreover, not a single daguerreotype that can be securely dated to 1850 or before with Vance’s name on it is known to exist.

[9]Carlton House (spelled without the “e”) was a hotel located at 350 Broadway between Leonard and Franklin streets.  However, Vance in his “Catalog” spelled it “Carleton.” 

[10] For example, Photographic-Art Journal, vol. II (no. 4, October 1851), pp. 252-253.

[11] Catherine L. Fisk, “Authors at Work: The Origins of the Work-for-Hire Doctrine, Yale Journal of Law & The Humanities, vol. 15, no. 1 (2003), pp. 58-59.

[12] Fisk ibid.