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Daguerre (November 18, 1787 – July 10, 1851) was a French artist and
chemist, recognized for his invention of the daguerreotype process of
Daguerre was born in Cormeilles-en-Parisis, Val-d'Oise, France. He
apprenticed in architecture, theater design, and panoramic painting.
Exceedingly adept at his skill for theatrical illusion, he became a
celebrated designer for the theater and later came to invent the
Diorama, which opened in Paris in July 1822.
In 1827, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce produced the world's first permanent
photograph (known as a Heliograph). Daguerre partnered with Niépce two
years later, beginning a four-year cooperation. Niépce died suddenly in
1833. The main reason for the "partnership", as far as Daguerre was
concerned, was connected to his already famous dioramas. Niepce was a
printer and his process was based on a faster way to produce printing
plates. Daguerre thought that the process developed by Niepce could help
speed up his diorama creation.
Daguerre announced the latest perfection of the Daguerreotype, after
years of experimentation, in 1839, with the French Academy of Sciences
announcing the process on January 9 of that year. Daguerre's patent was
acquired by the French Government, and, on August 19, 1839, the French
Government announced the invention was a gift "Free to the World."
Though Daguerre obtained a pension from the Government, the deceased
Niépce did not. Eventually his son fought for and won a pension from the
government recognizing his father's work.
Daguerre died in Bry-sur-Marne, 12 km from Paris. A monument marks his
The work on the Daguerre process was taking place at the same time as
that of Fox Talbot in England on the calotype process. Both men knew
that they were working on a process that would revolutionize the art
world. The Grand Tours which were so popular were illustrated by
drawings of scenes and the "photographic" process would improve the
quality and ease with which these popular holiday memories could be
To protect his own invention, Daguerre himself registered the patent for
Britain on August 12 (a week before France declared it "Free to the
World"), and this greatly slowed the development of photography in that
nation. Great Britain was to be the only place the patent was enforced.
Antoine Claudet was one of the few people legally able to take
Daguerre did not need to make money from the invention to live, since he
had been pensioned by the French government. Fox Talbot spent a
considerable amount of money on his process (est. £5,000 in 1830s money)
and was keen to recover the costs which the Daguerre patent blocked.
The first permanent photograph was made in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore
Niépce, building on a discovery by Johann Heinrich Schultz (1724): a
silver and chalk mixture darkens under exposure to light. Niépce and
Daguerre refined this process. Daguerre first exposed silver-coated
copper plates to iodine, obtaining silver iodide. Then he exposed them
to light for several minutes. Then he coated the plate with mercury
vapor heated to 75° Celsius, to amalgate the mercury with the silver,
finally fixing the image in salt water. These ideas led to the famous
The resultant plate produced a mirror-like exact reproduction of the
scene. The image was a mirror of the original scene. The image could
only be viewed at an angle and needed protection from the air and
fingerprints so was encased in a glass-fronted box.
Some ambrotypes were passed off as Daguerreotypes by being placed in
these type of boxes. But the process was cheaper involving a weakly
developed negative being placed on back card or paper to appear as a
positive. Tintypes also were "boxed" as Daguerrotypes.
Daguerreotypes were usually portraits; the rarer views are much
sought-after and are more expensive. The portrait process took several
minutes and required the subjects to remain stock still. Samuel Morse
was astonished to learn that Daguerrotypes of streets of Paris did not
show any humans, until he realized that due to the long exposure times
all moving objects became invisible. The time was later reduced with the
"faster" lenses such as the Petzval's portrait lens, the first
mathematically calculated lens.
The Daguerreotype was the Polaroid of the day, producing a single image
which was not reproducible (unlike the Talbot process). Despite this
drawback, millions of Daguerreotypes were produced. By 1851, the year of
Daguerre's death, the Fox Talbot negative process was refined by the
development of the wet collodion process, whereby a glass negative
enabled a limitless number of sharp prints to be made. These
developments made the Daguerreotype redundant and the process very soon