Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Daguerreotype And The Dawn Of Photography -- A Precious Genealogical Resource (August 19, 2014)

A Daguerreotype camera from 1839 in the Westlicht Photography Museum, Vienna, Austria.

For those who are lucky enough to have photographic images of ancestors from the period of around 1840 to the early 1860s, the original images were quite likely produced by a process known as the "daguerreotype." Today marks the 175th anniversary of the formal presentation of Daguerre's process to the French Academy of Sciences.  

As part of an arrangement whereby Daguerre was granted a lifetime pension in exchange for the rights to his photographic process, Daguerre agreed to present the details of his process in a step-by-step demonstration to both the Academy of Science and the Academie des Beaux-Arts on August 19, 1839.  While Daguerre gave away the rights to his process for the grant of a lifetime pension, he was shrewd enough to retain for himself the patent on the equipment that was necessary for implementing his photographic process and thus for producing the seemingly magical images that resulted.

The invention of the daguerreotype process also marks the point at which the capture of images of people left the sole domain of the rich and famous who previously were the only ones who could afford to have portraits painted or sculptures rendered. The daguerreotype made photographic images of surprising quality available to the merely affluent and eventually to the masses as the art and science of photography developed beyond the start provided by Daguerre.

The process of making a daguerreotype was laborious for both the photographer and for live subjects.  It required long exposure times of up to 30 minutes and the subject had to stay still during the entire time of exposure of the silver iodide coated copper plate in the camera.  For this reason early use of the daguerreotype was for artistic and scientific purposes more than for portraiture.  Still life art compositions and scientific specimens were immobile and could be staged in ideal bright light conditions that live subjects could not tolerate for necessary exposure times without blur-causing movements as small as the blink of the eyes.  It is for this reason that the best daguerreotypes were of inanimate objects while portraits of people were often blurred images of subjects desperately trying to maintain frozen, grim-looking visages.  It is probably also why so many early daguerreotypes were solo portraits of a single person -- fewer problems in having a single subject maintain the necessary immobility. 

By the 1860s -- and Mathew Brady's images of the U.S. Civil War with which we are all familiar -- the daguerreotype process was almost entirely replaced by much less expensive and more easily produced images.  The ambrotype was introduced in the 1850s and involved production of a positive image on glass.  In the 1860s and 1870s the tintype image became common and was produced on very thin black-lacquered iron.  The albumen print or albumen silver print was invented in 1850 and it was the first method of producing photographic images on paper.  It used the albumen from egg whites and became the dominant photographic medium from about 1855 until the start of the 20th century.  This paper-based photographic process resulted in the popularity of the carte de visite or "visiting cards," which were photograph cards on paper about 3.5 x 4 inches.  The cards became a fad and were traded among visitors and friends.  Later, 4.5 x 6.5 inch "cabinet cards" nudged aside the popular carte de visite because they were larger and mounted on cardboard stock.  Cabinet cards were the most popular and common form of photographic images from the 1870s until the advent of the Kodak Brownie camera and modern snapshots in the early 20th century.

Sadly, only a handful of Daguerre's own photographs (some still lifes, portraits, and views of Paris) still exist today due to a fire that destroyed his laboratory in 1839.  Below are some examples of daguerreotype portraits.

A daguerreotype of Louis Jacques-Mande Daguerre in 1844.

A daguerreotype of Andrew Jackson at about age 78 in 1844 or 1845. 

A daguerreotype and first authenticated photographic image of Abraham Lincoln, U.S Congressman -elect in 1846.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

For more information about Louis-Jaques-Mande Daguerre (1787 - 1851) and daguerreotypes see, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daguerreotype and http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dagu/hd_dagu.htm?elq=bc18177019664080b23fccd9a9891e7e&elqCampaignId=8432.

Image of an 1839 Daguerreotype camera in the public domain per a grant from the author http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Susse_Frére_Daguerreotype_camera_1839.jpg 

Daguerreotype of Louis Jacques-Mande Daguerre by Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot in the public domain due to an expired copyright http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Louis_Daguerre_2.jpg

Daguerreotype of Andrew Jackson in the public domain due to an expired copyright http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andrew_Jackson-1844-2.jpg

Enhanced daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln in the public domain due to an expired copyright http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abraham_Lincoln_by_Nicholas_Shepherd,_1846-crop.jpg

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

Copyright 2014, John D. Tew
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

No comments:

Post a Comment