History of Photography Discussion

Discuss how the Industrial Revolution influenced the birth of photography in a two or more paragraph essay.  Each paragraph should consist of 5 to 6 sentences.  Examples from lecture and supplemental readings should be made to demonstrate understanding.  Answers that appear to meet the length requirement but do not say something of substance as in the example of short sentences meant to meet the quota will lose points.

Be sure to use your lecture and readings provided.  Do NOT perform outside research.  You have everything you need in this module to answer this question.

1. Lecture 

painting of a horse with dappled dots of paints on a cave wall and two hand prints 

Hand Stencils around the famous Dappled Horse of Peche Merle, France, c. 25000 BCE

The beginning of photography traces back to the painting on cave walls?

The desire to commemorate one’s existence has been around since the Prehistoric age.  Cave paintings dating as far back as 25,000 to 40,000 BCE depict handprints or “signatures” of prehistoric “artists.”  These signatures suggest the human desire to commemorate one’s existence by saying “I am human, I am here.”  Notice the hand prints randomly painted around the horse in the famous Dappled Horse of Peche Merle dating back to 25000 BCE.

The Goal is to Commemorate One’s Existence

The desire to make pictures by capturing the subject in a specific time and place is a primal, instinctual, and/or human urge.  This urge is the basis of what we call photography.

How did one commemorate their existence prior to the invention of photography?

Below are a few examples of how humans commemorated their existence prior to the invention of photography.  It shows  us two things: 

the important for all humans to leave their mark

the inventive nature of humanity

Cave painting of humans in various poses.

The ancient Algerian cave painting above commemorates early man conversing with one another while hunting wild animals.  This was painted on a cave wall with primitive paints made from charcoal, animal fats and other types of plant/flower pigment.  Many cave paintings were preserved because they were deep inside caves; thus, protected from sunlight and aspiration mad by human and animal breath.

drawing of a woman in front of a silhouette machine with another on the other side drawing this person's profile. 

The eighteenth century silhouette machine depicted above made profile drawings of people to commemorates a person’s existence through a profile drawing.

silhouette portrait of person

  1. The silhouette drawing above depicts an 18th century man in profile framed within a decorative floral design.
  2. Photo in black and white of Charles Baudelaire in 3/4 pose with only one hand exposed.

The nineteenth century photograph of Charles Baudelaire above by Nadar captures the character of the sitter.  Notice how the subject is not smiling as we often do today in pictures.  Smiling in photographs was considered the characteristic of a simple minded person. 

Credit: Adam Begley, The Great Nadar

portrait painting of Chinese philosopher Mo Ti aka Mozi from the chest up 

The First Prototype of the Modern “Camera”

In the 5th century, Chinese Philosopher Mozi aka Mo Ti depicted above offered the prototype of a pinhole camera.  

sculptural bust of a bearded Aristotle in a toga  

In 330 BCE, Aristotle depicted above wrote about a pinhole that captured the crescent shaped image of the sun as it passed through leaves of a tree during a partial solar eclipse.  Throughout history, philosophers and advocates of the modern scientific method used pinhole cameras in their studies to copy or draw images.

Why is this significant? 

It is significant because it reinforces the notion that the idea of photography has been around for a very long time.

drawing of a pinhole drawing of a tree reflecting into a box on a back wallHow the Pinhole Camera Works

The Pinhole Camera

The pinhole camera is a box with a pinhole on one end.  The pinhole permits light to enter the darkened box and illuminates the object it captures on the inside.  The illuminated image inside the box appears inverted on the opposite wall as demonstrated in the above picture of a tree.  The pinhole camera was later known as a type of Camera Obscura which is Latin for “dark chamber.”

Black and white drawing of a camera obscura which is large in scale,

Camera Obscura 

The Camera Obscura

The camera obscura depicted above is just like the pinhole camera except much larger in size.  The painter enters a large room and sees the light filter through the hole on the opposite wall.  The light projects an inverted color image on that wall.   The painter then traces the image.  These “miracle paintings” made the act of drawing much easier.   The Camera Obscura is an example of how artists created images prior to the invention of photography and while a great substitute for the modern camera, it was simply not the same thing.  If you feel the need to see a walk in camera obscura in person, go to UCR CMP (Calif. Museum of Photography), on Main Street in Riverside, CA.

drawing of the camera lucida where a man uses an instrument  

Camera Lucida

Camera Lucida

Another example of how artists created images prior to the invention of photography is with the Camera Lucida depicted above.  A glass prism is held at eye level by a brass rod attached to a flat drawing board.  Artist looks through a peephole at the center to see the subject and then to draw the subject.  This machine was difficult to operate however.  Camera Lucida is Latin for “light room” and was used as a sketching aid to help overcome one’s lack of drawing skill.

Did you know that the Industrial Revolution, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Romantic era also influenced the development of photography?

The Industrial Revolution took place in Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Deposits of coal and iron ore, both necessary for industry, were abundant.  The first inventions during this time were the “spinning jenny“ and the “steam engine.”  The Industrial Revolution moved society from agrarian to urban.  With the invention of machines, factories, and mass production, people migrated to the cities in search of factory jobs.  The standard of living was raised for the middle class.  It was the nineteenth century that ushered in the urban, industrial based movement known as modernity. 

drawing of the spinning jenny, a wheel that spun eight threads at once,

T. E. Nicholson, Engraving of a Spinning Jenny, 1835

drawing engraving of a steam engine in motion on train tracks 

An engraving of a Steam Engine from the 19th Century

In 1764 James Hargreaves built the Spinning-Jenny depicted above, a machine in which thread was spun from corresponding sets of rovings and named after his daughter Jenny.  Initially, the operator could spin eight threads at once by the turn of a single wheel.  This invention was improved upon and industrialized so that merchants could make cloth from thread in abundance.  Factories were born due to new inventions such as these and merchants were able to sell mass produced products now.  Credit:  

For more go to:   and 

painting of a man surrounded by onlookers conducting an experiment with a bird in a cage 

Joseph Wright, Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, 1768

During the Age of Enlightenment, European politics, science, and philosophy were inspired by essays, books, laws, inventions, and revolutions.  People questioned traditional authority and focused on improving humanity with rational change.  Joseph Wright’s Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump depicted above is an example of the Age of Enlightenment’s growing interest in science.

painting of a ship tossed at sea in heavy waves with a sky filled with atmosphere and light at the center 

Painting by J.M.W. Turner, Slave Ship. 1840

The Romantic Era took place at the end of the eighteenth century and was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution.  It occurred during the Age of Enlightenment where a scientific rationalization of nature was born.  Romanticism focused on spontaneity, imagination, free expression, and the importance of nature.  Romantic paintings often diminish the sight of man, emphasized emotion and glorified the awesome nature of nature itself.  J.M.W. Turner’s Slave Ship depicted above is an example of a romantic painting that glorifies nature.

The Rising Commercial Class Demanded a Way to Commemorate Themselves

Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Romantic era, e demand for photography came from the rising commercial class and from the notion of modernity.  Like the rich, the commercial middle class wanted portraits but paintings were much too costly.  Progress made in the eighteenth century modern era would bring new visual realities at affordable prices to the masses. 

Prior to this, the lower classes were able to make portraits of themselves through less popular methods such as the Physionotrace machine and through lithography.  While the Physionotrace was a portrait making device, lithography used oil and water to print from a stone.

drawing of the physiognotrace machine with man sitting inside what resembles scaffolding

Chretian’s Physionotrace Machine, 1786

Example of a physiontrace portrait profile of an unknown young man from the waist up 

Chretian, Untitled, 1786-1811

The Physionotrace Machine

Gilles-Louis Chretian, a French musician, invented the Physiontrace or Physiognotrace machine in 1887.  The operator would trace a profile onto glass using a stylus engraving tool.  Then a silhouette would get etched into a copper plate at a reduced scale.  Tracing took about one minute and multiple copies could be made.  Although not a camera, it reduced portrait making to a mechanical operation.  This expanded portrait making to the middle class but nothing like painting which was an aristocratic endeavor.

For more, go to:  


Lithography was invented in 1796 is a method of drawing images on lithographic limestone plates. The process is concluded with the application of ink to print the image on paper.  Lithography was more cost effective for mass production.

lithograph (looks like a black and white drawing) of a man lying dead in his nightshirt on the floor by his bed

Daumier, Rue Transnonian, 1834, Lithograph


This lithograph above, Rue Transnonian, published in Association Mensuelle, illustrates an event that occurred during the riots of April 1834, when government troops opened fire on the inhabitants of a building in Paris.

photo of a silver plated argand oil lamp 

Silver Plated Argand Oil Lamp 

Theatrical Productions Before Photography

In Paris in the year 1800, a magic lantern known as an Argand oil lamp was used to create rear-screen images of ghosts, skeletons, and celebrities in a partially darkened theater.  This fantastic production also included special effects like smoke and thunder.  Prior to the invention of photography, eighteenth century audiences wanted to see projected images.  New inventions like the Argand oil lamp helped to fulfill the desire for projected images.

The Argand oil lamp was considered to be the first modern lighting system.  Concentrated beams of light would project images onto the wall or screen.  In 1826, Drummond oil or ”limelight,” replaced Argand oil.

Phantasmagoria, 18th and 19th Century


Phantasmagoria used moving images and special effects such as surround sound to invoke stories that haunted viewers long after they left the theater.

Other Inventions Before Photography

Louis Jacques Mande’ Daguerre was a leading scene designer in Paris.  In 1822, he created the first 350-seat Diorama which altered the way people experienced scenes or pictures by collapsing the single point of view that was integral to painting at the time.  The audience embraced this because it was considered new and good.  The audience was ready to consume new images of reality.

19th century metal kaleidoscope on built in stand

19th Century Kaleidoscope

round object with pictures pasted inside


The Kaleidoscope was invented in 1815 followed by the Zoetrope in 1834.  The Zoetrope is a circular drum with pictures pasted around the interior.  Upon spinning the drum, the pictures are viewed through cutout holes from the outside.  The Zoetrope is a “machine” that generates a visual experience for the viewer as it spins by.   

What is Photography?

Chemistry + Light  =  Photography

Where did the word Photography come from?

Etymology of the word photography comes from the Greek roots “photos” and “graphe’”

photos = light
graphe’ = drawing

photos  + graphe’  =  light drawing

black and white photo of Daguerre seated with left arm on perch 

Portrait of Louis Jacques Mande’ Daguerre, 1787

So, who invented photography?

Well, the answer is complicated.  Many people invented a useful and successful version of photography but only one man received the credit.  Perhaps we should rephrase the question to simplify things.

Let’s rephrase the question to “Who was given the credit for the invention of photography?”

The person given the credit for the invention of photography was Louis Jacques Mande’ Daguerre in 1839.  On January 7, 1839, Francois Arago, an important scientist and politician, saw the value and the promise of this invention.  Arago presented Daguerre’s invention to the Academy of Arts and Sciences in Paris.  Arago knew the Academy would love this invention and he wanted photography to be France’s gift to the world.  

Black and white photo street scene of a winding road on the left wrapping around a three story building 

Louis Daguerre, View of Boulevard Du Temple, 1839

The Academy did love Daguerre’s invention.  Daguerre was asked to publish a “how to” manual, arrange for the sale of lenses, and also wooden box cameras.  What ensued was “daguerreotypomania.”  This is why we give the credit for the invention of photography to Daguerre.  One of Daguerre’s first successful photos, Boulevard du Temple, is depicted above.

For more, go to:  

There were others who invented a version of photography and/or made advances in photography.  Their contributions are many and while we are focusing on Daguerre in this specific discussion, they deserve to be credited too.  Below is a list of a few other important inventors of a type of photography:

Sir John Herschel

Joseph Nicephore Niepce

Thomas Wedgewood

William Henry Fox Talbot

Hippolyte Bayard

  So, how did Daguerre do it?

In 1831, Daguerre was using highly polished silver plates and sensitizing them in the dark with heated iodine crystal vapors.  He then placed them in the camera to make one hour exposures in bright sunlight.  The results were highly detailed negative images.

Silver Plates + Iodine Crystal Vapors + Light = Negative Image

A few years later Daguerre he switched to heating the plate with mercury vapors.  Mercury provided for a fragile but incredibly detailed image.  The images had a shiny, mirror-like surface reflecting off a dark background.  The resulting picture was a “positive” image.  If the background was bright, the image appeared as a “negative.”  Mercury also had another beneficial side.  It reduced exposure time to 20 minutes in bright sunlight.

Silver Plates + Mercury Vapors + Light = Positive Image

    Word Spread Around the World about the Invention of Photography

Brazil, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland stepped forward with claims that they invented a photographic process as well.

Question:  How can so many people that have never met and live in different
countries at the same time claim they invented a photographic process?  

Answer:  Simultaneous consciousness perhaps. It is possible that an idea can
occur to different people, in different places, at the same time.

It can be suggested that Daguerre was one of the first to suggest photography was more than a science-technique but an actual form of art.  Please read:   to understand how photography shows the promise of art in it’s adoption of the still-life genre, 

Joseph Nicephore Niepce

Joseph Nicephore Niepce was an inventor of a successful photographic process.  Niepce developed the first system for making images permanently through the action of light.  He created an original picture using a camera, a biconvex lens, and a diaphragm.  In 1822, he discovered that Bitumen (tar) was sensitive to light and used it as a developer.  Alas, the dream of an automatic picture was born. 

blurry picture of rooftops in bw

Joseph Nicephore Niepce, View from his Window at Le Gras, 1826-1827

His developed images formed a “negative.”  Niepce also used silver surfaced copper plates to deliver positive images.  He called them Heliographs.  The photograph by Niepce, View from his Window at Le Gras, is the oldest surviving permanent camera based photograph.

Thomas Wedgewood

Thomas Wedgewood placed flat objects on paper coated with silver nitrate and images would be transferred through the agency of light. However, he could not stop the action of light from causing the image to continue darken over time.  Wedgewood could only show these images by candlelight in darkened rooms.  He needed to find a method to chemically fix the images to the paper and remove the light sensitive insoluble silver salts.

Robert Hirsch, author of the text, Seizing the Light, refers to it as a paradoxical problem.  Hirsch suggests that the very agency used to create the photo was the very agency that brought about its destruction. 

Daguerre used strong salt solutions to stop the action of light initially.  Others came up with similar ideas that worked,  Sir John Herschel found a photographic fixer in using sodium thiosulphate or hyposulphite of soda.  The chemical dissolves silver chloride; thus, successfully stopping the action of light.  

William Henry Fox Talbot

Thirty Years Later, William Henry Fox Talbot Continued the Work of Thomas Wedgewood

In 1834, scientist, scholar, and Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot had devised a version of a camera-based imaging system.  Photogenic drawings were prepared by soaking a piece of good quality drawing paper in a weak solution of common salt and allowing the paper to dry, brushing it with a solution of silver nitrate, and then further washing it in a strong solution of common salt.  Exposure was usually made by contact printing for as long as it took an image to appear.

This image would then be fixed: 

Talbot used a strong solution of common salt for this or, occasionally, potassium iodide

Sir John Herschel’s hypo fixer (sodium thiosulphate) dissolved away any remaining silver nitrate more efficiently and subsequently became the standard for all silver processes.

dark room with light coming through large latticed window

William Henry Fox Talbot, Positive form, perhaps the oldest extant photographic
negative made in a camera, Latticed Window, Lacock Abbey, 1835

Talbot’s Rush to Make Permanent Images

Talbot knew that fast, permanent and accurate images were the brass ring and had heard of Daguerre’s success in 1839.  He scrambled to stake his own claim in the invention of photography.  He later discovered Gallic acid and invented the calotype process which will be discussed in a later module.

*Ultimately, it was Daguerre’s images that met expectations better when considering what a picture should look like.

Anna Atkins

Anna Atkins published Illustrated images of Sir John Herschel’s photographic process.  Atkins constructed many photogram images of algae, feathers, and water weeds using Herschel’s invention called “cyanotype.”  Herschel’s creation was a blue print method that made fast copies.  Herschel was able to record natural color images of the spectrum without using dyes but rather by using the chemical silver bromide.  Herschel was one of the first to use the words “negative” or “positive” and also the word “photography.”  Atkins went on to publish and distribute volumes with illustrated images.

blue background with floating plant

Anna Atkins, Flagellatum Algae, 1840-50
She is one of the first female photographer

For more, go to: 

Hippolyte Bayard

Hippolyte Bayard was a French civil servant who worked on the invention of photography during the same time period as Daguerre and Talbot.  He displayed his pictures but published his findings too late because Daguerre had already been awarded the acknowledgement. 

bw photo of unclothed man leaning on wall as if dead
Hippolyte Bayard, Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man, 1840

He created Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man as a performance-based joke but also as a strong reaction to Daguerre getting the credit.  This is a self-portrait that suggests he committed “suicide” over his struggle with invention and his disappointment in not receiving accolades for his contributions to the medium of photography.

    What about the painters?  What did the painters think of photography?

Some painters embraced photography and never looked back.  Some found it useful especially in the study of light.  Others feared it and worried it would threaten their livelihood.

What eventually happened to Louis Daguerre, the man who was credited with the invention of photography?

After his meteoric rise to fame and the outbreak of “daguerreotypomania,”  Daguerre lost interest in photography.  He later moved to the countryside, began painting, and fell into obscurity.  Louis Daguerre died in 1851.

2. Lecture 

lithograph of a man carrying a large camera box next to another man

Notice how many people have cameras in the above sketch.

Daguerreotype Reigns Supreme From 1839-50

As Daguerreotype reigns supreme from 1839-50, photographers took pictures of anything that light would shine upon.  Prior to the invention of photography, the wealthy could act on the desire to commemorate their own likenesses through portrait painting, a very expensive medium. 

In this new era, the daguerreotype provided both ordinary people and the affluent access to pictures and picture making systems.

full body portrait photo of queen Victoria and prince Albert in wedding clothes looking at each other

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, pictured above in their wedding attire, were great
supporters and patrons of this new invention called photography. 

Photo of the Queen with her eldest daughter on her right side snuggling up to her mother on a bland background wall

Queen Victoria with Eldest Daughter, 1845

black and white photos of a seated queen Victoria and her standing children  

Queen Victoria and the Royal Family

black and white photo of queen Victoria and her husband prince Albert  with kids

Queen Victoria surrounded by husband and her children,
January 17, 1852, Daguerreotype.
Photographed by:  William Edward Kilburn, Royal Collection Trust/©


Daguerreotypomania took hold of French society.  Below is a lithograph revealing and perhaps making fun of all those enamored with this new invention of photography.  Notice all the photographers and cameras in the work below.

lithograph of daguerreotypomania in a chaotic scene where men are carrying camera boxes

Theodore Maurisset, Fantasies:  La Daguerreotypomanie,
Dec. 1839, 9×14, hand colored lithograph

The Special Qualities of the Daguerreotype

Daguerreotype shared both two and three dimensional object qualities.  The highly polished, silvered surface of the copper plate had a mirror like brilliance and provided great visual depth. 

It rendered incredible detail, making the images seem to rise from the surface and give a three dimensional sense.  The surface shimmered and provided great visual splendor.  It had a sparkly gem like quality, a magical realism that does not reveal itself well on a computer or printed page of a text.

It also captured the viewer’s own reflection and provided a sense of traveling back in time.  It was small in size and meant to be held in hand and not hung on a wall per se.  While holding it in one’s hands, the constant flickering between positive and negative images conveying two views of a person; thus, lending another peak into the character of the sitter.

woman seated and facing right in 19th century garb in this portrait daguerreotype 

Unknown Maker, Seated Young Woman, circa 1850,
Daguerreotype.  While her expression seems somber
perhaps because people did not smile in early photos.

  • dog standing on a table with tassles hanging around the sides. dog appears to be focused on a treat not pictured
  • Unknown maker, Dog sitting on a table, 1854.
    American Hand-Colored Daguerreotype
  • Daguerreotypes Were Saved in Collectible Cases
  • During the early days of daguerreotype, photographs were small in size, placed under several pieces of matte and glass and presented in a jewel box often with a red velvet lining.  Collecting photos was not as it is today, in fact most folks owned only a few photos in their lifetime.  One of which was often a wedding photo and another perhaps a post mortem photo of a loved one.  For more, go to: 
  • drawing of the early photo studio with subject up on perch, man polishing plate, man standing behind the camera, etc

Above is an daguerreotype studio, as depicted in a woodcut by George Cruikshank in 1842. This illustration shows the interior of Richard Beard’s daguerreotype portrait studio at the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London’s Regent Street, the first professional photographic portrait studio in England, which opened in 1841.  In this early period, Beard employed Wolcott’s mirror camera, which used a concave mirror instead of a lens.

Key to Numbers and Letters Found in the Drawing Above:

A daguerreotype studio was often situated at the very top of a building, which had a glass roof to let in as much light as possible.

The subject sat on a posing chair placed on a raised platform, which could be rotated to face the light. The sitter’s head is held still by a clamp (x).

The Stages of Making a Daguerreotype Portrait

An assistant polishes a silver-coated copper plate with a long buffer until the surface is highly reflective (y). c. The highly polished plate is then taken into the darkroom, where it is sensitized with chemicals ( e.g. chloride of iodine, chloride of bromine ).

The operator places the sensitized plate into a camera placed on a high shelf (z). When the sitter is ready the operator removes  the camera cover and times the required exposure with a watch. [ In this illustration, the operator is using Wolcott’s Mirror Camera, which was fitted with a curved mirror instead of a lens ].

The exposed plate is returned to the darkroom where the photographic image on the silvered plate is “brought out” with the fumes from heated mercury (d). The photographic image is “fixed” by bathing the plate in hyposulphate of soda. The photographic plate with the daguerreotype image is then washed in distilled water (e) and dried.

Finally, the finished daguerreotype portrait is covered by a sheet of protective glass and is either mounted in a decorative frame or presented in a leather-bound case and offered to the customer for close inspection. Early daguerreotype portraits were very small and to appreciate the fine detail these customers are using a magnifying glass.   Screen Video: 

Daguerreotype, A Spontaneous or Planned Act?

Making a daguerreotype was time consuming as revealed in the drawing of an early daguerreotype studio above.  It had a very long exposure time so the sitter had to sit still for quite some time.  Making a daguerreotype was not spontaneous but rather a planned and executed act.  Poses were premeditated.  The daguerreotype revealed its potential to replace hand made procedures carried out by skilled artisans.

daguerreotype brown camera box with lens on one side facing the viewer 

Daguerreotype camera built by La Maison Susse Freres in 1839, with a lens by Charles Chevalier

Using a Daguerreotype to make a Lithograph 

Since a photographer could only make one copy of a daguerreotype, an artist would then make a copy of the photo in the form of a lithograph.  It’s hard for us to wrap our brain around this but it was the only way to make copies.  This is how they published photos in newspapers.  It was not until the calotype process was born that photos could be reproduced. 

crowded street scene of a market and fountain in the foreground with a lot of atmosphere and sky above

Foreign Title: Le Chateau d’eau, Marché aux Fleurs or
Fountain of the Boulevart St. Martin, 1825-37, Lithograph

Disseminating Cultural Icons

This lithograph of the work above, Fountain of the Boulevart St. Martin, is a colored illustration of people gathered near flower market in town square beneath a cloudy sky.  Behind them is a large fountain with lions sprouting water.  The area is surrounded by buildings, one of which is identified as a diorama like the one Daguerre invented prior to his invention of photography.  Provenance: 

The Fountain of the Boulevart St. Martin above was drawn from a daguerreotype photograph.  An alliance was forged between photography and printmaking.  Western audiences wanted views of historical European sites and a new market opened up to reproduce numerous “copies” for dissemination of such cultural icons.  Some daguerreotype views of familiar places were traced and transferred onto copper plates by aquatint process and published in 1841-43 as excursion daguerriennes or views of remarkable monuments around the globe.

Henry Fitz close up of face with eyes closed and wearing a high neck collar

Daguerreotype of Henry Fitz, Jr.  Self-portrait with eyes closed, 1839-40

Early Daguerreotype Portrait Making Was Painful

The first portrait gallery opened in 1840.  The studio only operated on sunny days.  Practitioners used mirrors to harvest and reflect sunlight on sitter’s face.  On cloudy days, exposures  could last eight minutes or longer.  It was difficult to sit still for so long.  American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson described in his writings the difficulty and pain in sitting still for a photograph.  He described the pain resulting from the clenched muscles and the resulting muscle aches due to long exposure time.  In the photo above of Henry Fitz, Jr., the subject sat for five minutes in full sun as still as possible and with eyes closed.  Subjects often closed their eyes during the process to avoid creating a blurry work.

For more, go to:  

Daguerreotype Comes to America

The daguerreotype instruction manual arrived in NY.  The process of democratizing visual representations was furthered.  Collaborations grew between the photographer, sitter.  What was revealed about the sitter created the basis for portraiture.   Early daguerreotypists were men of means, education, and money.  Some had scientific technical experience or artistic training.  At first the process was expensive and difficult but advances in photographic chemistry were made and portraiture became cheaper and easier to do; hence, why we refer to it as a democratic technique.

Eventually, photography was taken to its highest level of excellence through the emergence of a group of new, aspiring professionals.

Mother Albers sits with a basket of veggies on her lap. She is smiling which is unusual and wearing a hat.

Carl Ferdinand Stelzner, Mother Albers,
The Family Vegetable Woman, 1845
What is so unusual here is that she is smiling!

Photography Democratized Portraiture

Photography democratized portraiture by making it economically feasible for ordinary working people to have their likeness memorialized.  This was a major accomplishment for this time and afforded many in America access of the American Dream.

The American Dream
Daguerreotype offered some unemployed and entrepreneurs a second chance and an opportunity to live the American Dream.  Europeans saw America as the land of opportunity and the restorer of dignity through will power and hard work.  Daguerreotypes appealed to America’s frontier mentality as well as its infatuation with machines that made tasks easy to perform.  Daguerreotype was making a lasting impression.

Fear of Photography

Back in Europe, Honore de Balzac, founder of Realism in European literature, considered the photographer a danger for metaphysical reasons.  He believed bodies were made up of a finite number of leaf like skins and with each picture taken, a layer was removed and transferred to the image.  Each exposure meant the irreplaceable loss of another ghostly layer – the very essence of life.

Danger of Photography

Some artists were afraid daguerreotype would destroy their livelihood.  The French Painter, Paul Delaroche,  said “painting is dead” upon seeing the daguerreotype.   He was obviously wrong about this most powerful artistic medium.

plumbe daguerrean gallery brochure advertising pictures for 25 cents 

Plumbe, Jr. Daguerrean Gallery Advertisement

Photography Becomes Commercial

John Plumbe, Jr., 1841, established a commercial enterprise taking portraits, selling materials, providing instruction, and working in color.

plumb's photo of the white house set back in the distance and from the left side;

Plumbe, Jr., First ever (?) Photo of the White House, 1840s

Plumbe, Jr. collected celebrity portraits and publicized them as lithographs.  His business grew to 25 galleries.  In 1845, he offered photographs for about $1.00 each.  The photographer or operator did not get the credit.  Each work was stamped with the studio owner’s name of “Plumbe.”  This appears to be the first photograph of the White House in DC.  The photo was taken by Plumbe in the 1840s.

three quarter photo of a seated man in top hat reading a newspaper on the right side of the frame

John Plumbe, Jr.  Portrait of a Man Reading a Newspaper, 1842.  Daguerreotype.

Full body pose of Matthew Brady seated in a chair looking off to the right

Matthew Brady, 19th Century Photographer

The Celebrity Portrait and Publicity

Matthew Brady depicted above opened a gallery, promoted celebrity portraits, and sent his pictures to the new picture papers.  During this era, the only way for a newspapers to print photographs on their pages was by converting the photograph into a lithograph or now a wood-engraving illustration.  While the photograph provided free publicity to the celebrity, it also promoted the photographer’s portrait business as well as the communications industry.

Some Interesting Statistics

By 1853, a thousand New Yorker’s, including women and children, worked in the photographic trade.  Women did a lot of hand coloring because of their smaller hands.  Thirty-seven of New York’s 86 studios were on Broadway.   Workers were paid $1.50 per day pay if skilled and  $1.00 or less per day if unskilled.   An underground market grew out of this.  Illegal pornographic daguerreotypes were being made during this time and sent via mail order.

james presley ball seated from the chest up with a long beard and looking off to the right

James P. Ball, Sr. by Esther Ball Mumford

James Presley Ball, Sr., was a free African American male who became a celebrated daguerrean photographer.  Ball opened a gallery called the “Great Daguerrean Gallery of the West” in Cincinnati where he created an 1800 foot-long panorama on the slave trade.  Ball also photographed Frederick Douglass and the family of Ulysses S. Grant.  With his son, he expanded his photography business opening numerous galleries. 

In 1855, Ball accompanied by a team of African American artists created this large panorama titled Mammoth Pictorial Tour of the United States comprising views of the African Slave Trade.   This work consisted of 2,400-square-yards of canvas. Ball wrote an accompanying pamphlet detailing “the horrors of slavery from capture in Africa through middle passage to bondage.”

drawing of the great daguerrean gallery of the west where people are walking around admiring the photographs hanging

Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, April 1, 1854 

Ball’s Daguerrean Gallery of the West

In 1851, Ball again opened a gallery in Cincinnati, later moving it to another downtown location in 1853 and expanding it to include nine employees.  Ball’s Great Daguerrean Gallery of the West quickly became one of the most well known galleries in the United States, and was featured in a wood engraving in Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, April 1, 1854.

james presley ball's photo of frederick douglass seated from the chest up looking off to the left side

James Presley Ball, Sr., Frederick Douglass
1869, Daguerreotype

As Ball was a successful photo studio owner, he took the above photo of Frederick Douglass in 1869.  Ball had to rely on attracting a white clientele to keep his business afloat.  During the (Civil) war that eventually ended slavery in America, Ball’s photographic studios was integral in keeping soldiers and their loved ones connected visually.  It was during this time that photography was being realized as an important medium especially in terms of communicating information.  In the upcoming Civil War lecture, we learn the growing importance of seeing and knowing in terms of current events.  James Presley Ball, Jr’s journey as an African American middle class daguerreotype photographer is presented in this link 

daguerreotype brochure flyer for hotel photographers

Splendid daguerreotype miniatures taken in
every style by E.S. Hayden Advertisement

Rural Practices

Traveling daguerreotype salons would visit rural towns where most people lived.  They would rent a few rooms, pass out hand bills similar to the one depicted above or place ads in local papers, and wait for customers.  When demand dropped off, they would move on to the next town.

seated woman from the waist up holding her dead baby and looking directly at the camera

Unknown Photographer, Mother and Deceased Child, 1855

Post Mortem Portraits

Post mortem portraits permitted people to memorialize their loved ones in death.  During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, one usually died at home rather than in a hospital.  Post mortem pictures were probably the only picture one had of their deceased loved ones, especially infants and young children.  Prior to the modern medicine we rely on today, the death rate of infants and children was high.

Check out this link of post mortem photos from 

Photography Companies were Growing

Southworth and Hawes, an early photographic firm, opened in 1843 and operated until 1863.  It has been suggested that the owners, Albert Southworth and Josiah Hawes, were the first professional masters of portrait photography.  Both figures were integral in elevating this technical process to a fine art as they paid close attention to the effects of light and how it played a role in creating a style of photography.

pastor neal wearing a black lapel jacket with white shirt with unruly graying hair facing the right 

Southworth & Hawes photograph of Rollin Heber Neal
(Pastor of First Baptist Church, Boston), 1850, Daguerreotype

Notice the crispness, clarity and three dimensional quality of the daguerreotype of Pastor Neal above and the Butterfly Collector below.  The photos seems to provide a timeless quality and, if the clothing didn’t help to identify the era, one might think these photographs were taken recently, perhaps in the last century.

photo of the butterfly collector standing in front of his collection holding a book  

Unknown Photographer, Butterfly
Collector, 1850, Daguerreotype

Daguerreotype and the Invention of the Vacation Picture

The desire to see nature’s wonders created the inexpensive ability to transport people to previously inaccessible areas and converted natural sites.  These sites became the first tourist attractions.

waterfall in the distance behind a great pool or lake of water with the land in the foreground

Hugh Lee Patterson, Niagara Falls, 1840

One such inaccessible spot turned tourist attraction was Niagara Falls.  The first daguerreotype of Niagara was taken in 1840 by Hugh Lee Patterson above.  He was an English metallurgist looking for a mining investment.  The views he made on the Canadian side of the falls are the first example of the daguerrean process in Canada. 

babbit's niagara falls with the waterfall in the background and people in the front of the pool of water/lake.  

Platt D. Babbitt, Tourists Viewing Niagara Falls from Prospect Point, 1855,
Daguerreotype with Applied Color.

On the American side of the falls, a man named Platt D. Babbitt not only monopolized the Niagara Falls view in the 1850’s, but also the people taking in the view; thus, adjoining them to the scene.  This new view of people in nature became a new formula and alas, the vacation picture was born.

Nature scene + people = Vacation Picture!

In the above photo by Babbitt, notice how some of the figures have been hand colored which was a growing interest at the time.  Also notice the packaging of the photograph.  As daguerreotypes could not be reproduced, preserving them was important.  A daguerreotype was often saved in a small jewel like box, and served as a remembrance or keepsake.

The Daguerreotype as Scientific Witness and the Miniaturization of Data

John Whipple took daguerreotype views of the moon from the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Mass  Daguerreotype worked with science, which looked at nature differently thanks to the invention of the telescope and then combining it with the microscope.  They revealed an immense systematic cosmos which would elevate daguerreotype to a reliable scientific witness in a miniature form per se.  The daguerreotype dispersed new knowledge to a large audience offering fresh ways of knowing the universe.  Photographs were now acceptable as the normal appearance of things and this was a very big deal.  Thanks to the new scientific invention of photography that permits us to miniaturize data such as the moon, photos of the moon became the object of study over the actual subject itself.  

Who is responsible for the making of the miniaturization of data?

William H. Goode of Yale University was making daguerreotypes for a solar microscope; thus, setting the precedent for the miniaturization of data.  Today, we carry on this tradition viewing pictures printed in textbooks.  Think about the pyramids of Giza in Egypt.  They have been miniaturized and set in a book for us to study.

the moon at a distance in a black background

John Whipple, The Moon, 1852, Daguerreotype

All Good Things Must Come to an End

The daguerreotype did eventually decline in the latter part of the 1850s.  But its contributions cannot be diminished.  The daguerreotype created the archetype invention that fulfilled the desire to commemorate one’s existence as well as one’s world.  Daguerreotype ultimately and most importantly transformed how society viewed time and space.  William M. Ivins, Jr. suggested that through photography, art and science had their most striking effect upon the thought of the average person of the day. 

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