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Portraits

The Daguerreian artist should possess quick perceptive powers; an eye for the beautiful, which will enable him at a glance to decide on expression and position.… The picture should express feeling, thought and intelligence.… It is the "everyday," "home" expression, which renders the picture an object of admiration in the familiar circle where it is to be appreciated."

—"The True Artist,"Daguerreian Journal, August 1851

Woman at a Mirror Young Girl Mother and Son

In America the daguerrean vision was an attitude not only toward face and place but also possessions and responsibilities. The ingenuousness of commonplace prosperity marks an entire category of daguerreotype images. Houses, livestock, carriages, families, and children are framed with simple directness. Sharing the same impulse toward vernacular formulas as American folk art, the convention of the familiar object and the average person, rendered with bold frontality, carries with it an intensity of observation that goes far beyond description to become a form of impersonal expression.
 

Merry A. Foresta, Secrets of the Dark Chamber


Daguerreotypes are posed images. And because so many of their makers are unknown, and their subjects cannot be identified, we become reliant on the autonomy of the image itself. Portraits such as Woman Writing Letters are signals of some larger meaning: a lover's secret message, a public announcement, the description of thought. They embody the subject of communication itself, which survives the lost context of the making of these images.

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