History of Photography




Introduction
History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary











 

 



Chapter 1

 

 

JOSEPH NICEPHORE NIEPCE (collection)
LOUIS JACQUES MANDE DAGUERRE
(collection)
JEAN BAPTISTE LOUIS GROS
WILHELM HALFFTER
ANTON MARTIN
JOSEPH SAXTON
JOHN PLUMBE
WILLIAM and FREDERICK LANGENHEIM
JOHN ADAMS WHIPPLE


 

 


THE EARLY YEARS:



TECHNOLOGY, VISION, USERS



1839-1875



 

 

What is the secret of the invention? What is the substance endowed with
such astonishing sensibility to the rays of light, that it not only penetrates itself  with them,
but preserves their impression; performs at once the function of the eye and the optic nerve
—the material instrument of sensation and sensation itself?


"Photogenic Drawing" 1839
 

 

IN THE YEAR 1839, two remarkable processes that would revolutionize our perceptions of reality were announced separately in London and Paris; both represented responses to the challenge of permanently capturing the fleeting images reflected into the camera obscura. The two systems involved the application of long-recognized optical and chemical principles, but aside from this they were only superficially related. The outcome of one process was a unique, unduplicatable, laterally reversed monochrome picture on a metal plate that was called a daguerreotype after one of its inventors, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre (pi. No1) (see Profile). The other system produced an image on paper that was also monochromatic and tonally as well as laterally reversed—a negative. When placed in contact with another chemically treated surface and exposed to sunlight, the negative image was transferred in reverse, resulting in a picture with normal spatial and tonal values. The result of this procedure was called photogenic drawing and evolved into the calotype, or Talbotype, named after its inventor, William Henry Fox Talbot (pi. no. 2) (see Profile). For reasons to be examined later in the chapter, Talbot's negative-positive process initially was less popular than Daguerre's unique picture on metal, but it was Talbot's system that provided the basis for all substantive developments in photography.

1. JEAN BAPTISTE SABATIER-BLOT. Portrait of Louis Jacques Monde Daguerre, 1844. Daguerreotype. International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House. Rochester, N.Y.

2. ANTOINE CLAUDET.
Portrait of William Henry Fox Talbot, c. 1844.
 Daguerreotype. Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock, England.

By the time it was announced in 1839, Western industrialized society was ready for photography. The camera's images appeared and remained viable because they filled cultural and sociological needs that were not being met by pictures created by hand. The photograph was the ultimate response to a social and cultural appetite for a more accurate and real-looking representation of reality, a need that had its origins in the Renaissance. When the idealized representations of the spiritual universe that inspired the medieval mind no longer served the purposes of increasingly secular societies, their places were taken by paintings and graphic works that portrayed actuality with greater verisimilitude. To render buildings, topography, and figures accurately and in correct proportion, and to suggest objects and figures in spatial relationships as seen by the eye rather than the mind, 15th-century painters devised a system of perspective drawing as well as an optical device called the camera obscura that projected distant scenes onto a flat surface (see A Short Technical History, Part I)—both means remained in use until well into the 19th century. Realistic depiction in the visual arts was stimulated and assisted also by the climate of scientific inquiry that had emerged in the 16th century and was supported by the middle class during the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century. Investigations into plant and animal life on the part of anatomists, botanists, and physiologists resulted in a body of knowledge concerning the internal structure as well as superficial appearance of living things, improving artists' capacity to portray organisms credibly. As physical scientists explored aspects of heat, light, and the solar spectrum, painters became increasingly aware of the visual effects of weather conditions, sunlight and moonlight, atmosphere, and, eventually, the nature of color itself.

This evolution toward naturalism in representation can be seen clearly in artists' treatment of landscape. Considered a necessary but not very important clement in the painting of religious and classical themes in the 16th and 17th centuries, landscape had become valued for itself by the beginning of the 19th. This interest derived initially from a romantic view of the wonders of the universe and became more scientific as painters began to regard clouds, trees, rocks, and topography as worthy of close study, as exemplified in a pencil drawing of tree growth by Daguerre himself (pi. no. 3). When the English landscapist John Constable observed that "Painting is a science and should be pursued as an inquiry' into the laws of nature," he voiced a respect for truth that brought into conjunction the aims of art and science and helped prepare the way for photography. For if nature was to be studied dispassionately, if it was to be presented truthfully, what better means than the accurate and disinterested "eye" of the camera?

 

3. Louis JACQUES MANDE DAGUERRE.
Woodland Scene, n.d.
Pencil on paper.
International Museum of Photography
at George Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y.

 

The aims of graphic art and the need for photography converged in yet another respect in the 19th century. In accord with the charge of French Realist painter Gustave Courbet that it was necessary "to be of one's time," many artists rejected the old historical themes for new subjects dealing with mundane events in contemporary life. In addition to renouncing traditional subject matter, they also sought new ways to depict figures in natural and lifelike poses, to capture ephemeral facial and gestural expression, and to represent effects of actual conditions of illumination—information that the camera image was able to record for them soon after the middle of the century.

Another circumstance that prepared the way for photography's acceptance was the change in art patronage and the emergence of a large new audience for pictorial images. As the church and noble families diminished in power and influence, their place as patrons of the arts was taken by the growing middle class. Less schooled in aesthetic matters than the aristocrats, this group preferred immediately comprehensible images of a variety of diverting subjects. To supply the popular demand for such works, engravings and (after 1820) lithographs portraying anecdotal scenes, landscapes, familiar structures, and exotic monuments were published as illustrations in inexpensive periodicals and made available in portfolios and individually without texts. When the photograph arrived on the scene, it slipped comfortably into place, both literally and figuratively, among these graphic images designed to satisfy middle-class cravings for instructive and entertaining pictures.

Though the birth of photography was accompanied by incertitude about scientific and technical matters and was plagued by political and social rivalries between the French and the British, the new pictorial technology appealed enormously to the public imagination from the first. As photographs increasingly came to depict the same kinds of imagery as engravings and lithographs, they superseded the handmade product because they were more accurate in the transcription of detail and less expensive to produce and therefore to purchase. The eagerness with which photography was accepted and the recognition of its importance in providing factual information insured unremitting efforts during the remainder of the century to improve its procedures and expand its functions.


The Daguerreotype

The invention of the daguerreotype was revealed in an announcement published in January, 1839, in the official bulletin of the French Academy of Sciences, after Daguerre had succeeded in interesting several scientist-politicians, among them Francois Arago, in the new process of making pictures. Arago was an eminent astronomer, concerned with the scientific aspects of light, who also was a member of the French Chamber of Deputies. As spokesman for an enlightened group convinced that researches in physics and chemistry were steppingstones to national economic supremacy, Arago engineered the purchase by France of the process that Daguerre had perfected on his own after the death of his original partner, Joseph Nicephore Niepce (pi. no. 4) (see A Short Technical History, Part I). Then on August 19, 1839, with the inventor at his side, Arago presented the invention to a joint meeting of the Academies of Sciences and of Fine Arts (pi. no. 5) ; the process was later demonstrated to gatherings of artists, intellectuals, and politicians at weekly meetings at the Conservatoire desArts et Metiers.


5. UNKNOWN. Joint Meeting of the Academies of Sciences and
Fine Arts in the Institute of France, Paris, August 19, 1839.
Engraving. Gemsheim Collection, Humanities Research Center,
University of Texas, Austin.

4. LEONARD-FRANCOIS BERGER. Portrait of Joseph Sktphore NUpce, 1854. Oil on Canvas. Musee Nicephore Nicpce,
Ville de Chalon-sur-Saone, France.

 

The marvel being unveiled was the result of years of experimentation that had begun in the 1820s when Niepce had endeavored to produce an image by exposing to light a treated metal plate that he subsequently hoped to etch and print on a press. He succeeded in making an image of a dovecote (pi. no. 6) in an exposure that took more than eight hours, which accounts for the strange disposition of shadows on this now barely discernible first extant photo-graph. When his researches into heliography, as he called it, reached a standstill, he formed a partnership with the painter Daguerre, who, independently, had become obsessed with the idea of making the image seen in the camera obscura permanent. Daguerre's fascination with this prob-lem, and with the effects of light in general, is under-standable in view of his activities as a painter of stage sets and illusionistic scenery for The Diorama, a popular visual entertainment in Paris. Evolved from the panorama, a circular painted scene surrounding the viewers, The Diorama contrived to suggest three-dimensionality and atmospheric effects through the action of light on a scries of realistically painted flat scrims. The everyday world was effectively transcended as the public, seated in a darkened room, focused on a painted scene that genuinely appeared to be animated by storms and sunsets.

In promoting The Diorama into one of Europe's most popular entertainments, Daguerre had shown himself to be a shrewd entrepreneur, able to gauge public taste and balance technical, financial, and artistic considerations, and he continued this role with respect to the new invention. He understood, as his partner Niepce had not, that its progress and acceptance would be influenced as much by promotional skill as by intrinsic merit. After the death of Niepce in 1833, Daguerre continued working on the technical problems of creating images with light, finally achieving a practicable process that he offered to sell in 1838, first for a lump sum and then by subscription. When these attempts failed, he altered his course to a more politically inspired one, a move that culminated in the acquisition of the process by the French government and led to the painter's presence beside Arago at the gathering of notables in the Palace of the Institute in August, 1839.

In an electric atmosphere, Arago outlined Daguerre's methods of obtaining pictures (basically, by "exposing" a silver-coated copper plate sensitized in iodine vapor and "developing" its latent image by fuming in mercurv vapor), enumerated potential uses, and prophetically emphasized unforeseen developments to be expected. The making of inexpensive portraits was one possibility keenly desired, but in 1839 the length of time required to obtain a daguerreotype image ranged from five to 60 minutes, depending on the coloring of the subject and the strength of the light—a factor making it impossible to capture true human appearance, expression, or movement. For instance, in one of two views from his window of the Boulevard du Temple (pi. no. 7) that Daguerre made in 1838, the only human visible is the immobile figure of a man with a foot resting on a pump, all other figures having departed the scene too quickly to have left an imprint during the relatively long exposure. Therefore, efforts to make the process practicable for portraiture were undertaken immediately (see Chapter 2).

Shortly after the public announcement, Daguerre published a manual on daguerreotyping, which proved to many of his readers that the process was more easily written about than executed. Nevertheless, despite the additional difficulty of transporting unwieldly cameras and equipment to suitable locales—not to mention the expenditure of considerable time and money—the process immedi¬ately attracted devotees among the well-to-do, who rushed to purchase newly invented cameras, plates, chemicals, and especially the manual—about 9,000 of which were sold within the first three months. Interest was so keen that within two years a variety of cameras, in addition to the model designed by Daguerre and produced by Alphonse Giroux in Paris, were manufactured in France, Germany, Austria, and the United States. Several knowledgeable opticians quickly designed achromatic (non-distorting) lenses for the new cameras, including the Chevalier brothers in Paris and Andrew Ross in London, all of whom had been providing optical glass for a wide range of other needs, as well as the Austrian scientist Josef Max Petzval, a newcomer. Focusing on monuments and scenery, daguerreotype enthusiasts were soon to be seen in such numbers in Paris, the countryside, and abroad that by December, 1839, the French press already characterized the phenomenon as a craze or "daguerreotypomanie" (pi. no. 8).

6. Joseph Nicephore Niepce. View from His Window at Le Gras, c. 1827. Heliograph. Gernsheim Collection.
Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin.


JOSEPH NICEPHORE NIEPCE (see collection)

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (March 7, 1765 – July 5, 1833) was a French inventor, most noted as the inventor of photography and a pioneer in the field. He is well-known for taking some of the earliest photographs, dating to the 1820s.
Joseph Niépce was born on 7 March 1765 in Chalon-sur-Saône, France. He created the first permanent photograph, of the exterior of his home, around 1826. The photograph was made using a camera obscura and a sheet of pewter coated with bitumen of Judea, an asphalt that when exposed to light, hardened permanently. This first photograph was captured during an eight hour exposure, taking so much time that the sun passed overhead and thus illuminating both sides of the courtyard.
Niépce did not have a steady enough hand to trace the inverted images created by the camera obscura, as was popular in his day, so he looked for a way to capture an image permanently. He experimented with lithography, which led him in his attempt to take a photograph using a camera obscura. Niépce also experimented with silver chloride, which hardens when exposed to light, but eventually looked to the bitumen, which he used in his first successful attempt at capturing nature photographically. He dissolved the bitumen in lavender oil, a solvent often used in varnishes, and coated the sheet of pewter with this light capturing mixture, he placed the sheet inside a camera obscura to capture the picture, and eight hours later removed it and washed it with lavender oil to remove the unexposed bitumen.
He began experimenting to set optical images in 1793. Some of his early experiments made images, but they faded very fast. It was said that he made the first long lasting images in 1824. The earliest known example of a Niépce photograph (or any other photograph) was created in June or July of 1827 or 1826, according to some information. Niépce called his process heliography, which literally means "sun writing".
Starting in 1829 he began collaborating on improved photographic processes with Louis Daguerre, and together they developed the physautotype, a process that used lavender oil. The partnership lasted until Niépce’s death in 1833. At this point Daguerre continued with experimentation, and in 1839 revealed to the public his new process for taking pictures, which he called the Daguerreotype, after himself, and for a good many years Niépce received no credit for what was essentially his invention. Niépce’s son eventually fought for and won his father's right to be credited for this invention, but Niépce’s name was never as well known as was Daguerre’s.
In 2002, an earlier remaining photograph which had been taken by Niépce was found in a French photograph collection. The photograph was found to been taken in 1825, and it was an image of an engraving of a young boy leading a horse into a stable. The photograph itself later sold for 450,000 euros at an auction.

 


see also: Nicephore Niepce.
View from the Study Window, 1827
 

7. Louis JACQUES MANDE DAGUERRE. Boulevard du Temple, Paris, c. 1838.
Daguerreotype. Bayerisches NationaJmuscum, Munich.


LOUIS JACQUES MANDE DAGUERRE (see collection)
 

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (November 18, 1787 – July 10, 1851) was a French artist and chemist, recognized for his invention of the daguerreotype process of photography.
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 grave there.

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 produced.
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 daguerreotypes there.
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 Daguerreotype.
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 disappeared.


see also: Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre. Boulevard du Temple, 1838

 

8. THeODORE MAURISSET. La Daguerreotypomanie, December, 1839. Lithograph.
Gemsheim Collection, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin.

One of the more accomplished of the gentlemen amateurs who were intrigued by daguerreotyping was Baron Jean Baptiste Louis Gros, who made the first daguerreotype images of the Parthenon while on a diplomatic mission to Greece in 1840. After returning to Paris, he was fasci¬nated by his realization that, unlike hand-drawn pictures, camera images on close inspection yielded minute details of which the observer may not have been aware when the exposure was made; far removed from the Acropolis, he found that he could identify sculptural elements from the Parthenon by examining his daguerreotypes with a magnifying glass. The surpassing clarity of detail, which in fact still is the daguerreotype's most appealing feature, led Gros to concentrate on interior views and landscapes whose special distinction lies in their exquisite attention to details (pi. no. 9).

At the August meeting of the Academies, Arago had announced that the new process would be donated to the world—the seemingly generous gift of the government of Louis Philippe, the Citizen King. However, it soon became apparent that before British subjects could use the process they would have to purchase a franchise from Daguerre's agent. Much has been written about the chauvinism of Daguerre and the French in making this stipulation, but it should be seen in the context of the unrelenting competition between the French and British ruling-classes for scientific and economic supremacy. The licensing provision reflected, also, an awareness among the French that across the Channel the eminent scientist Talbot had come up with another method of producing pictures by the interaction of light and chemicals.

Regularly scheduled demonstrations of Daguerre's process and an exhibition of his plates took place in London in October, 1839, at the Adelaide Gallery and the Royal Institution, the two forums devoted to popularizing new discoveries in science. Daguerre's manual, which had appeared in translation in September (one of 40 versions published within the first year), was in great demand, but other than portraitists, whose activities will be discussed in the next chapter, few individuals in England and Scotland clamored to make daguerreotypes for amusement. Talbot, aware since January of Daguerre's invention from reports in the French and British press and from correspondence, visited the exhibition at the Adelaide Gallery and purchased the equipment necessary for making daguerreo-types; however, even though he praised it as a "splendid" discovery, he does not appear to have tried out the process.

Reaction to the daguerreotype in German-speaking cities was both official and affirmative, with decided interest expressed by the ruling monarchs of Austria and Prussia. Returning from a visit to Paris in April, 1839, Louis Sachse, owner of a lithographic firm, arranged for French cameras, plates, and daguerreotype images to be sent to Berlin by mid-year; a few months later, views taken with locally constructed apparatus also were being shown. However, even though urban scenes in a number of cities were recorded quite early, among them an 1851 view of Berlin by Wilhelm Halffter (pi. no. 10), daguerreotyping for personal enjoyment was less prevalent in Central Europe because the bourgeoisie were neither as affluent nor as industrially advanced as their French counterparts. As in all countries, German interest in the daguerreotype centered on expectations for a simple way to make portraits.

Avid interest in the new picture-making process, a description of which had appeared in scientific journals following the January announcement in Paris, motivated Anton Martin, librarian of the Vienna Polytechnic Institute, to attempt daguerreotype images in the summer of 1839, even before Daguerre had fully disclosed his procedures or had his plates exhibited in Vienna that fall. Winter Landscape (pi. no. 11), a view made two years later by Martin, is mundane in subject matter and artlessly organized. But by the 1830s this kind of scene already had begun to appeal to artists, and it is possible that the documentary camera image, exemplified by this work, hastened the renunciation of romantic themes and bravura treatment of topographical scenes in the graphic arts.

9. JEAN BAPTISTE LOUIS GROS. Bridge and Boats on the Thames, 1851.
Daguerreotype. Bibliotheque Nationak, Paris

10. WILHELM HALFFTER. Statue of Frederick the Great, Berlin, May 31, 1851.
Daguerreotype. Agfa-Gcvacrt Foto-Historama, Cologne, Germany.

11. ANTON MARTIN. Winter Landscape, Vienna, c. 1841.
Daguerreotype. Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg

One of the earliest Europeans to embrace and extend the possibilities of the daguerreotype was the Swiss engraver Johann Baptist Isenring who, between 1840 and 1843, exhibited plates of native scenery, colored by hand, in Augsburg, Munich, Stuttgart, and Vienna. He also was among the first to publish aquatint views (pi. no. 12) based on daguerreotypes, signaling the form in which the unique image would begin to reach a larger public. His subject matter, too, anticipated the attraction that Continental landscape was to have for a great many photographers working between 1850 and 1880, many of whom continued the tradition begun in the late 18th century of publishing landscape views.

Curiosity about the new picture processes was pronounced among scientists, artists, and travelers in Italy. In addition to translations of French manuals, which started to appear in 1840, visitors from the north brought along that own equipment for bytli the daguerreotype and Talbot's negative-positive process. Among the early Italian daguerrconpists. Lorenzo Suscipj was commissioned to make views of the Roman mini for English philologist Alexander John Ellis. Indeed, the presence of classical ruins and die interesting mb, of French, British, German, and American nationals living and traveling in Rome and Florence during mid-century gave Italian photography in all processes a unique character in that the rapid com-mercialization of scenic views and genre subjects became possible. For example, within ten years of the introduction of photography, camera images had taken the place of the etchings  engravings and lithographs of ruins that tourist traditionally had purchased.

As one moved farther east and north from Paris  daguerreotyping activity became less common. News of the discovery, reprinted from the January notices in the French press, reached Croatia, Hungary Lidiuania. and Serbia in February, 1839, and Denmark. Estonia, Finland, and Po-land during the summit, with the result that a number of scientific papers on the process began to appear in these localities. In Russia experimentation succeeded in producing a less expensive method of obtaining images on nipper and brass rather dian silver., and by 1845 a Russian dague-rcotypist felt confident enough to exhibit landscape views of the Caucasus Mountains in in Paris show. Nevertheless, early photography in all these distant realms reflected the absence of a large and stable middle class. Only in the three primary industrial powers—England, France, and die United States—was this group able to sustain die investment of time and energy necessary to do clop the medium technically and in terms of significant use.

12. JOHANN BAPTIST ISENRING. View of Zurich, n.d.
Aquatint. Burgerbibliotek Bern, Switzerland.


The Daguerreotype in America

As had been the case with other technologies originat-ing in Europe, Americans not only embraced the daguerreotype, but quickly proceeded to turn it to commercial advantage. The view that "the soft finish and delicate definition of a Daguerreotype has never yet been equalled by any other style of picture produced by actinic agency," which appeared in the photographic magazine Humphrey's Journal in 1859, was only one expression of an opinion held especially by the first generation of American photographers. Daguerreotyping remained the process of choice for 20 years—long beyond the time that Europeans had turned to the more flexible negative-positive technology. The reasons for this loyalty are not entirely clear, but a contributing factor must have been the excellent quality attained by American daguerreotypists. The sparkling North American light, envied by fogenshrouded Londoners, was said to have been partly responsible, but social and cultural factors undoubtedly were more significant. Considered a mirror of reality, the crisp, realistic detail of the daguerreotype accorded with the taste of a society that distrusted handmade art as hinting of luxuriousness and was enamored of almost everything related to practical science. With its mixture of mechanical tinkering and chemical cookery, the daguerreotype posed an appealing challenge to a popu-lace that was upwardly and spatially mobile despite periods of economic depression. As a means of livelihood, it combined easily with other manual occupations such as case-or watchmaking, and those who wished to follow a western star were to find it a practicable occupation while on the move.

Some Americans had higher aspirations for the daguerreotype. As an image produced by light, it appeared in their minds to conjoin the Emersonian concept of the "divine hand of nature" with the practicality of scientific positivism. Some hoped that the new medium might help define the unique aspects of American history and experience as expressed in the faces of the citizenry. Others believed that because it was a picture made by machine it would avoid too great artifice and, at the same time, would not demonstrate the obvious provinciality of outlook and training that often characterized native graphic art at mid-century.


13. PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN. Portrait of Samuel F. B. Morse, c. 1845. Daguerreotype. Collection Mrs. Joseph Carson, Philadelphia.

The daguerreotype reached America after it had been seen and praised by Samuel F. B. Morse (pi. no. 13), a skillful painter who also invented the electromagnetic telegraph. His enthusiastic advocacy in letters to his brother in the spring of 1839 helped spur interest in the first manuals and descriptions that arrived in New York late in September by packet ship from England. By early October, details were available in the press, enabling Morse and others to attempt daguerreotyping, but although he worked with esteemed scientist John William Draper and taught others, including Mathew Brady, few images produced by Morse himself have survived.

Another factor that contributed to the rapid improvement of the daguerreotype in the United States was the arrival in November, 1839, of the French agent Francois Gouraud, with franchises for the sale of equipment. His demonstrations, along with exhibitions of Daguerre's images, evoked interest in the many cities where they were held, even though Americans did not consider it necessary to purchase rights or use authorized equipment in order to make daguerreotypes. As in Europe, technical progress was associated with portraiture, but improvement also was apparent in images of historical and contemporary monuments and structures. Owing to the primitive nature of his equipment and the experimental state of the technique, engraver Joseph Saxton's very early view of the Arsenal and Cupola of the Philadelphia Central High School (pi. no. 14), made in October, 1839, is not nearly as crisply defined as John Plumbe's Capitol Building (pi. no. 15) of 1845/46 and William and Frederick Langenheim's 1844 View of the Girard Bank, occupied by the Philadelphia Militia (pi. no. 16).

Plumbe, a visionary businessman who built and then lost a small daguerrcotyping empire, was interested mainly in portraits, but the Langenheim brothers, of German extraction, hoped to improve American photographic technology by introducing German daguerreotype cameras, the calotype, and photography on glass. John Adams Whipple, of Boston, was similarly concerned with expanding the frontiers of the medium. In addition to a partnership in a fine portrait practice, Whipple attempted to make daguerreotypes by artificial light and to experiment with images on albumencoated glass. His special interest was astrophotography; in March, 1851, after three years of experimentation, he produced successful daguerreotypes of the moon (pi. no. 17). The Langenheims and Whipple were among the small group of Americans who realized the drawbacks of the daguerreotype; the populace, however, was too engrossed by the seeming fidelity of "the mirror with a memory" to deplore its limitations.

14. JOSEPH SAXTON. Arsenal and Cupola, Philadelphia Central High School, October 16, 1839.
Daguerreotype. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

15. JOHN PLUMBE. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C., 1845-46.
Daguerreotype. Library' of Congress, Washington, D.C.

16. WILLIAM and FREDERICK LANGENHEIM. Gtrard Bank, May, 1844.
Daguerreotype. Library Company of Philadelphia.

17. JOHN ADAMS WHIPPLE. Moon, 1851.
Daguerreotype. Science Museum, London.

 

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