Photo Odyssey: Solomon Carvalho's Remarkable Western Adventure, 1853-54

Arlene B. Hirschfelder, Author
Arlene B. Hirschfelder, Author Clarion Books $18 (128p) ISBN 978-0-395-89123-0
Reviewed on: 06/05/2000
Release date: 06/01/2000
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Hirschfelder (Native Americans) focuses this uneven biography on Solomon Carvalho (1815-1897), a daguerreotype photographer recruited by Colonel John Charles Fr mont to document a railroad survey expedition. Hirschfelder starts out strong with a preface abundant with engrossing details of Carvalho's life as an observant Jew, implying a unique set of challenges for his experiences on the road; yet she drops this point almost immediately. She then conveys a microcosm of the westward expansion movement, offering concrete examples of the circumstances posed by life and travel in the great outdoors. For instance, a humorous account of the competition for the Fr mont expedition between Carvalho and another photographer contrasts the unwieldy daguerreotype process--which created a ""mirrorlike image"" by exposing a silver plate ""to iodine vapors in a wooden camera until the silver surface turned a bright golden yellow then [was] treated to mercury fumes heated by flame""--with the more modern but lengthier process of producing negatives. However, while Hirschfelder's preface paves the way for a more intimate biography, and the narrative is punctuated by a wealth of excerpts from Carvalho's diary and letters, later chapters often assume a detached tone, which lessens the impact of her subject's connection to people and events. Black-and-white images and maps accompany the text, but readers may well question the absence of the subject's daguerreotypes (readers don't learn until the last chapter that most were lost). While this volume offers an informative snapshot of the West and the accomplishments of a little-known craftsman, it unfortunately may not hold readers' attention. Ages 10-14. (June)
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