Carvalho’s Journey provides a unique look at an artist in the American West

Film tells the story of famed Jewish photographer

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Solomon Nunes Carvalho - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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  • Solomon Nunes Carvalho
In 1853, Charleston native Solomon Nunes Carvalho set out on a perilous journey to document America’s untamed West. An observant Sephardic Jew, the painter and photographer traveled more than 2,000 miles to chronicle the unspoiled beauty of the frontier. Now, Carvalho’s Journey, a documentary by filmmaker Steve Rivo, looks to tell the story of this artist and photographer.

Carvalho , who was skilled in the art of daguerreotypes — a process that uses silver-plated copper to captures images — had little experience with frontier life before he joined explorer John Fremont’s fifth westward expedition, leading to an incredible account of life in the wilderness.

According to the film’s website, “As an urbane Jewish city dweller, Carvalho took great pleasure in detailing his experiences and poking fun at himself while learning to ride a horse and saddle a mule, hunt buffalo, and live off the land. He described the difficulty of hauling his cumbersome gear and making daguerreotypes in waist-deep snowdrifts, and, perhaps most challengingly, trying to maintain his commitment to Judaism while adapting to the food (horsemeat was a staple) and the extreme conditions.”

Making its debut last July at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Carvalho’s Journey has made the rounds at more than a dozen cities across the U.S. Rivo says he has been struck by audiences’ deep interest and enthusiasm for all aspects of Carvalho’s story — especially the depiction of Charleston’s Jewish community during the early 19th century. According to the filmmaker, most viewers are surprised to learn that during that time, the city had the largest Jewish community in America, with more than 600 Jewish residents in 1820. Other audience members connect with the film’s depiction of the early days of photography.

A special screening of Carvalho’s Journey is scheduled for Thurs. April 7 at the Terrace Theatre. Presented as part of the Charleston Jewish Community Center’s Charleston Jewish Bookfest, Rivo will be on hand after the showing to discuss the film and the life and experiences of Carvalho. General admission is $10.50, and the screening begins at 7 p.m. For more information or to reserve tickets online, visit charlestonjcc.org/bookfest.

“We’ve had great screenings all over the country, but I’m truly most excited to bring the film to Charleston, where the story began,” says Rivo. “We filmed there a few years ago and also have received terrific support in the making of the film from Dale Rosengarten [founding director of the Jewish Heritage Collection at the College of Charleston Library], the College of Charleston, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue, and a number of other folks down there, so I’m really looking forward to returning to present the finished film.”


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