Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Daguerreotype

Fig. 1 Two girls looking at a picture book 1850-55

Fig. 2 Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, 1844

Last semester Ryan Johnston gave a lecture about the history of photography for the subject Modern Art - the politics of the new. It was really interesting to hear about the development of photography over the 19th and 20th centuries.

Ryan indicated that photography is essentially a modern art form. From the Renaissance artists have used the camera obscura and photography was invented simultaneously in many countries in the 1800 – 1820s. (Johnston 2009)

In 1839 Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) (Fig. 2) presented his invention of an early type of photography which he named the daguerreotype to the French Academy of Sciences. It was a method that used a large box camera, to expose an image to a silver plated sheet of copper that had been treated with iodine. It was then developed with mercury and fixed with salt. Only one copy was produced and this was a very fragile method. (Met Museum of Art, Online)

The Metropolitan Museum of Arts website has a section devoted to their exhibition titled ‘The Dawn of Photography: French Daguerreotypes, 1839–1855’. You can view images from the exhibition as well as a computer animation of the daguerreotype process. Viewing the images evoked the sense of travelling back in time to see people and places that no longer exist. This is part of the magic of photography.

I chose to decorate my blog page with an image from this exhibition (Two girls looking at a picture book 1850-55) (Fig. 1) because I like the look of this method of photography. I like the image of children reading a picture book. Its astounding how far media has advanced since this period.


Fig.1. Unknown artist
Two Girls Looking at a Picture Book, ca. 1850-55
Daguerreotype; 19.1 x 15.2 cm (7 1/2 x 6 in.)
Département des Estampes et de la Photographie, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris

The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fig. 2. Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot (French, 1801-1881)
Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, 1844
Daguerreotype; 14.3 x 11.7 cm (5 5/8 x 4 5/8 in.)
George Eastman House, Rochester

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Website. Available from:


Johnston, Ryan, “Photography and Modernism” Lecture, University of Melbourne. Parkville. 26 March 2009.