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Photography exhibit at University Museum to show route of 1853 railroad

Photography exhibit at University Museum to show route of 1853 railroad


An exhibition of daguerreotypes retracing John Fremont's 1853 expedition from Missouri to California in his attempt to locate a central route for the proposed transcontinental railroad will be on display at the New Mexico State University Museum July 10 through Sept. 29.

"Sights Once Seen: Daguerreotyping Fremont's Last Expedition through the Rockies" is based on a project by Robert Shlaer, who retraced the route, documenting the expedition with daguerreotypes he made himself.

Daguerreotyping is a photographic process introduced in 1839 that used small copper plates covered with a highly polished layer of silver. Daguerreotyping, which makes only a single positive image making it difficult to reproduce, reached its peak in popularity in the 1850s, but was replaced by the wet plate process. The wet plate process allowed photographers to produce a negative on a glass plate and to make multiple copies of the photos.

Shlaer, a modern daguerreotypist from Santa Fe, has written a book about the expedition that includes more than 120 daguerreotypes with a narrative describing each picture. Shlaer will present a lecture on his expedition and hold a book signing on Sept. 6 at the University Museum.

In 1853 daguerreotypist Solomon Nunes Carvalho accompanied Fremont on his fifth and final journey across the Rockies. Carvalho produced more than 300 daguerreotypes on the trip, which were intended to be used in a report about the expedition.

Most of Carvalho's daguerreotypes were lost in a fire in New York City and the report was never written. Carvalho later wrote a book describing the journey, which Shlaer used as a reference for his book.

Shlaer's book includes three forms of daguerreotypes: those that recreate the exact scenes of the remaining originals, those that correspond to Carvalho's written accounts of the original expedition and other scenes that Shlaer chose himself along the route that fill in the holes where little is known about the journey.

"This project revives the Fremont expedition, which many historians often overlook as a trivial failure," Shlaer said. "Besides the book by Fremont's daguerreotypist, there are not a lot of written accounts from that time period about the expedition. I was able to learn a great deal about the expedition by being out in the field producing my own daguerreotypes."

The exhibition is organized by the Museum of New Mexico and circulated through TREX: The Traveling Exhibitions Program of the Museum of New Mexico, supported by grants from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation and private donors.

The University Museum is located at the corner of University Avenue and Solano Drive. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information call Sharyn LaPointe Hill at (505) 646-3739.