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Daguerreotype

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The Daguerreotype is a type of photograph. While it was not the first photographic process to be developed, images of earlier processes tended to fade quickly when exposed to light. The Daugerreotype photographic process was one of the first to permanently record and affix an image, and became the first commercially used photographic process.

The Daguerreotype is named after its inventor, French artist and chemist Louis J.M. Daguerre[?], who announced its perfection (after years of experimentation) in 1839 (the French Academy of Science[?] announced the process on January 9 of that year). People often believe that the Daguerreotype was the most commonly used method of photography into the late part of the 19th century. Actually this process was used for only about 10 years, before it was overtaken by other processes:

  • the Ambrotype[?] introduced in the late 1850s, a negative image on glass, with a black backing
  • the Tintype or Ferrotype, an image on chemically-treated tin)
  • the Albumen Photograph, most commonly used in American Civil War Photography, being a paper photograph produced from large glass negatives.

The rapid move away from Daguerreotype photography in the United States was inevitable: the process is intricate & complex, labor intensive, with many stages of production. This made them expensive & not affordable to the average person. Also, the typical exposure was often 60 to 90 seconds long, requiring the sitter(s) to remain immobile & hold a pose for all that time. (When you view a true Daguerreotype of exceptional clarity, keep this in mind.) And finally -- and perhaps most important -- since there is no negative, it had no intermediate stage wherein it could be, later, reproduced.

Unlike film and paper photography, a Daguerreotype can last forever, when properly sealed. It is an image etched into a mirror-polished surface of metal housed in a velvet-lined folding case.

In the early 1840s the invention was quickly introduced (within a matter of months) to artists in the United States by Samuel Morse, inventor of the Telegraph. An exuberant market in portraits, often the work of itinerant artists who moved from town-to-town, sprang up.

Today these antique items are avidly collected. Some Daguerreotypes -- such as those by Southworth & Hawes of Boston, or George S. Cook of Charleston, South Carolina (shown below) -- are considered masterpieces of the art.

See also: Photography

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