Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Three Family Daguerreotypes (November 19, 2013)

Ann Eliza Patt (1803 - 1887), wife of John Bowen Shearman

John Bowen Shearman (1799 - 1881), husband of Ann Eliza Patt

Samuel Carpenter (1828 - 1904)

Yesterday was the birthday of Louis-Jacques-Mande' Daguerre (November 18, 1787 - July 10, 1851). Daguerre was an artist and a physicist.  He is best known for his invention of an early method of photography that took his name as the daguerreotype.  

The process Daguerre developed took advantage of the light sensitivity of silver salts. It involved exposing copper sheets having a layer of silver plating on it to vapors given off by iodine crystals.  This procedure left a very thin layer of light-sensitive silver iodide that could then be exposed in a camera.  The big problem with this late 1830s photographic process was that it required long exposures to produce a decent image and so early subjects were buildings and things that could not move.  Human subjects had to stay as still as possible for a long time for portraits and that is one reason the poses look so wooden and frozen.  

Millions of daguerreotypes were produced when the process was refined and portrait sitting times were reduced from as much as thirty minutes to just a few seconds, but when paper-based processes replaced the metal daguerreotypes beginning in around 1855, the expense and difficult viewing of the daguerreotype photograph spelled its demise; by the late 1860s few photographers were still using the daguerreotype process.

The above daguerreotypes are of my 3rd great grandparents, John and Ann Shearman, and my 2nd great grandfather, Samuel Carpenter, in his Civil War uniform.

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Daguerreotypes in the personal collection of the author.
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Copyright 2013, John D. Tew
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  1. Wonderful treasures, John. I'm quite envious, looking at these - 3rd greats! Small question - how does one care for daguerreotypes appropriately?

  2. Oh, John, -- that last photograph, your Samuel in uniform with the sword (or maybe it's a sabre, I can't tell), brings forth in my mind the terror of battle in the Civil War. The general "Civil War soldier" suddenly becomes a man -- a relative, an ancestor -- with a sword ready to fight face to face against another man with a sword. Not even seeing photos of a battlefield filled with dead and wounded soldiers have done that. I believe it's the first Civil War image I've seen with a man holding a sword.

    Your daguerreotypes are gorgeous. How wonderful that you have them and that the are preserved in such good condition.

  3. Wow! Awesome family history treasures! Isn't it amazing how far photography has come since its inception? I'm so glad we don't have to sit or stand still for 10 minutes to have our pictures taken today!

  4. John,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/11/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-november-22.html

    Have a great weekend!

  5. Thank you Jana! Have a great weekend -- and a Happy Thanksgiving!