U.S. Department of the Interior

DOI News Header

Office of the Secretary
For Immediate Release: Jan. 8, 2003
CONTACT: Anne James

Contemporary Daguerreotypes of Western Landscapes

on Exhibit at Department of the Interior Museum

Sights Once Seen: Daguerreotyping Frémont's Last Expedition Through The Rockies, now on exhibit at the U.S. Department of the Interior Museum, features more than one hundred contemporary daguerreotypes of western landscapes by Robert Shlaer.

Following the route traveled by explorer John Charles Frémont's expedition 150 years ago, Shlaer--a modern-day practitioner of this early form of photography--has visually reconstructed Frémont's quest for a central transcontinental railroad route. Fire destroyed all but 34 of the daguerreotypes Solomon N. Carvalho made during Frémont's 1853 expedition.

Several copies of engravings made from Carvalho's images also are displayed in the exhibition. Sights Once Seen is on loan from the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, and continues at The Interior Museum through Monday, March 31, 2003.

Frémont and his men encountered treacherous, icy weather on their winter expedition. Temperatures remained below zero degrees Fahrenheit for much of their trek through the Rocky Mountains.

These conditions posed particular challenges for Carvalho, as daguerreotypy involves exposing silver-coated copper plates to gaseous chemicals for an extended period of time, and rinsing the plates in distilled water before gilding or tinting. Also, the equipment used to make daguerreotypes was cumbersome and heavy for the pack animals to transport.

In the 1990s, Shlaer's challenges were not frigid temperatures or bulky equipment but piecing together the historic route, from maps, expedition documents, and Carvalho's journal, and documenting its panoramic scenes. The resulting images (of the Santa Fe Trail and the Arkansas River Valley in Kansas, Colorado's Cochetopa Pass, and Cathedral Valley, Utah, for example) are a beautiful record of landscape, arduous exploration, and technical mastery.

Charles Bennett, the exhibition's curator, remarked, "If you've never seen daguerreotypes you will be amazed at the simultaneous clarity and ghost-like quality of this earliest form of photography."

In 1994, Shlaer chose to travel and photograph Frémont's Fifth Expedition route rather than to pursue a career in sensory psychology and neurophysiology, a field in which he earned a Ph.D. More than four years later he completed his task and began producing the exhibition. He authored a book by the same title (published by the Museum of New Mexico Press) that reproduces many of the images on exhibit at the Interior Museum. He has lectured and published widely on daguerreotypy, and his work is included in the collections of The Amon Carter Museum, The Boston Athenaeum, and The Huntington Library, among many others.

The Interior Museum is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (except for federal holidays) and the third Saturday of each month from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Adult visitors must present a form of photo identification (such as a driver's license, student ID, or employment card) when entering the Main Interior Building which is at 1849 C Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. Wheelchair access is available at the 18th and E Streets entrance. For more information, call 208-4743.


Accessibility | Feedback | Notices | Disclaimer | Privacy Statement | FOIA | E-Gov | USA.gov | DOI Home