Carleton Watkins                       Valparaíso, 1849


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the first few days a caretaker of the place."  Carleton continued his narrative telling Turrill that he performed the caretaker's duties for a few days while Vance went about unstated other business, then, "On Friday or Saturday Vance visited. . .to see how [I] was getting along.  [Vance] had not gotten a new operator, so he showed [me] how to coat the daguerreotype plate and how to make an exposure for a portrait."[6]

          A popular misunderstanding is that photography is child's play, however, until modern times it was not. When speaking to his biographer, Carleton, who turned out to be one of the greatest practitioners in the early history of camera art seriously underplayed what was required to make a world class photograph in 1849.    

           We believe Carleton's first days of apprenticeship with Vance in Valparaíso took place at the Vance y Cia. studio located at calle de la Aduana no. 113 [Fig. 3], and would have begun no sooner than the end of May, shortly after Carleton finished work with Collis Huntington in Panama.[7]  The first encounter would have been no later than the end of June, when Vance started an ambitious south-to-north journey early in the South American winter of 1849-50.  Carleton's nominal mentor in photography, Vance was absent from Valparaíso for nearly a year when he journeyed towards the equator, traveling through some of the most photogenic scenery on earth, the lands once occupied by the Inca civilization in present-day northern Chile, Bolivia and Peru.  None of the photographs that Vance could have made on this journey are known to survive. 

          During his long absence from Valparaíso, it was imperative for Vance to have a reliable and productive camera operator to complement the work of his associate, who is known to us only by the surname, Mason, a man who was a trained engraver and printer, not a photographer.[8]  Vance wrote to his supplier of photographic materials in Boston, that in his absence from Valparaíso he had ". . .one of the best fellows in charge. . .",[9] who we believe was nineteen-year-old Carleton Watkins.[10]

          Vance's absence fromValparaíso during the first crucial months of Carleton's apprenticeship in the daguerreian art leads us to imagine that it was not so much Vance's charismatic charm than it was the magic of photography itself that seduced the young man who was touched by destiny.  It was surely the experience of seeing for the first time how light, harnessed by physics and


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[6] Turrill, p. 30. 

[7] See Chapter Seven.

[8] ALS Robert Vance to Hale & Co., Boston July 26, 1849(Private Collectiion), where engraving supplies are part of the order.

[9] Ibid.

[10] See Chasing Aurora Chapters Six and Seven for how Carleton got to Valparaíso.