American Jews no longer thought in terms of defined limitations but rather as Americans whose minds and opportunities knew no boundaries and could expand with the West. A new Jew was being formed.
-Jerry Klinger, President, Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation
…My heart beat with fervent anxiety, and whilst I felt happy, and free from the usual care and trouble, I still could not master the nervous debility which seized me while surveying the grand and majestic works of nature…. I was far way from the comforts of my home….A deep sigh of longing for the society of man wrested itself from my breast.
- Solomon Nunes Carvalho, Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West, 1854
Carvalho's Journey a documentary film for PBS, tells the story of Solomon Nunes Carvalho (1815-1897), a Sephardic-American Jew born in Charleston, South Carolina, and his life as a groundbreaking explorer, artist, photographer, inventor, memoirist, and pioneer in American history.
Centering on Carvalho’s extraordinary journey across the United States in 1853 as the first professional photographer ever to capture images of the West, the film weaves interviews with scholars and writers, stunning original landscape cinematography (in High Definition Video and S-16mm film), rare early photographs and daguerreotypes of the West, portraits, lithographs, drawings – including Carvalho’s own paintings and photographs – into a visually compelling and fascinating narrative of the expansion of the American continent.
As a member of famed explorer John C. Fremont’s Fifth Westward Expedition, Carvalho’s experience as a Jew on the western trail was unprecedented, and his experience – and his writings about it – grant a clear window into the extraordinary inter-ethnic cultural exchanges that were commonplace in this period in American history, but that are so often overlooked in history books.
Voiceover recordings by acclaimed actors bring Carvalho’s dramatic, funny and humanist writings to life, along with first-person accounts by Carvalho’s fellow explorers including Fremont, their Native-American guides and workingmen crew and Nineteenth-century luminaries such as Brigham Young of Utah, with whom Carvalho had a unique audience in Salt Lake City. One of the major issues the film explores is how Carvalho remained fervently devoted to his Jewish heritage throughout his long life while also participating actively in the highest levels of American culture, art and exploration.
Initial funding for the project has been provided by The Maurice Amado Foundation, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation and the Humanities Council of South Carolina.
About the Filmmakers
STEVE RIVO, PRODUCER/DIRECTOR
Steve Rivo is an award-winning documentary film and television producer and the founder of Down Low Pictures. He has produced, directed or written documentaries for PBS, Court TV, The Discovery Channel, VH1 and independently. Selected credits include co-producer of the Emmy and DuPont award-winning, multi-part PBS series NEW YORK: A DOCUMENTARY FILM (directed by Ric Burns), producer of two of Burns’ films for the PBS series AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: EUGENE O'NEILL (2006, Emmy Award) and ANSEL ADAMS (2002, Emmy award), director and producer of numerous documentaries for Court TV.
BOARD OF ADVISORS
Elizabeth Kessin Berman
Daniel J. Czitrom
Ava F. Kahn
Sharon Pucker Rivo
Eileen Hallet Stone
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1. Solomon Nunes Carvalho, Self-portrait, Daguerreotype, 1850
2. Mid-19th century daguerreotype of Native American
lodges. One of the oldest existing photographs of the American West. Credited to Solomon Nunes Carvalho. Courtesy of Library of Congress.