Carleton Watkins                                Daguerreian in the Mother Lode


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lives of both of his celebrated friends with whom he had intimate personal relationships.  Let us continue the story by summarizing information presented in earlier chapters of Chasing Aurora: The Secret Life of Carleton Watkins.       

Carleton traveled to Panama in the winter of 1849 with Huntington and several other men from Otsego County, New York.  He met Robert Vance in mid-1849 in Valparaíso, Chile, where we believe Carleton was first introduced to the magic of daguerreian photography by Vance, who enabled Carleton to practice the young art as a camera operator.  Vance, moreover, recognized his apprentice's unique talent for making daguerreotype city views, studies of architecture, and landscapes.  Meanwhile, approximately a year later, Huntington would give Carleton his first regular job in California, and eventually would become his chief benefactor.[6] 

 Once in California, where they are believed to have arrived in late August of 1850,[7] Vance and Carleton had different priorities.  Vance was intent on establishing a business involving a pre-fabricated structure or structures, the exact purpose for which he failed to reveal to his supplier.[8]  For Vance, photography was just one of several business enterprises with which he was involved, something to be cultivated for its profit potential.[9]  We fear Vance was not someone mesmerized by the natural magic of sun pictures as Carleton turned out to be. For example, before departing Valparaíso for San Francisco all Vance talked about in his letters was money and daguerreotype prices:

"I have been in Bolivia for the last four or five months operating. I have done very well so far. I shall go from here to Cusco [Peru] where I shall stop two months and so on to Lima [Peru], stopping at four or five small places on the road. It will take me about six months to perform the journey and I intend to take $4,000 if not more by the route. I shall not operate in Lima on account of the prices being so low — small pictures are taken there for $1 apiece by some Frenchmen. But I believe there is now there two Americans


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[6] Jennifer Watts, "The Photographer and the Railroad Man," California History, Vol 78, No. 3 (Fall, 1999), pp. 154-159.

[7] See Chapter Eleven for how the date of arrival to California has been established.

[8] R. H. Vance, ALS to J. H. Hale & Co., Boston, from Arequipa, Peru, July 26, 1849, Private Collection: "As soon as I get to Lima, I intend to go to California and open another kind of business in connection with my picture taking. To do so, it is necessary to have a good house and that for the present is not to be had there either for love or money. For that reason, I have sent to Boston to have one made all ready to put together — everything complete — and sent out to me."

[9] Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn, "Vance, Robert H." in Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2000, p. 561.