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J.K. Fisher, "Photography, the Handmaid of Art"
Photographic Art-Journal, January 1851

The first notion of an uninstructed person, when he sees a work of art, is, that the chief merit and difficulty of it lies in the close resemblance to the object represented. He is astonished, after long acquaintance, to learn that there is far more difficulty in the mere arrangement of the whole, than in the execution of the parts. Such persons, when the Daguerreotype appeared, at once supposed that the perfection of representation would be attained by scientific and mechanical means, and the artists's skill would be dispensed with.

But when they got into the chairs of Daguerreotypists, and found themselves pictured with long, important faces, and awkward attitudes, looking like debating politicians attempting to start first speeches, or unpractised lovers struggling to pop the question, or youths sitting for the first time in barbers' chairs to undergo the momentous and man-developing process of shaving; then those over-sanguine persons wondered why they did not get strong likenesses, natural expression, easy attitudes, and other good qualities, which they had always supposed to be easily gotten. The reason is twofold; they could not themselves look like themselves, under the circumstances; and the operators had not the judgement to manage and catch them. So, in most cases, pictures are awkward and affected, and often difficult to recognize.

All this trouble will begin to grow less when operators find out that no one can be a successful Daguerreotypist unless he is an artist as well as a manipulator. As a mere rhymer is not a good poet, a mere talker not an orator, so a mere manipulator is not capable of producing agreeable pictures, however good his subjects may be. A real artist, with the most unpromising subjects, will surpass him. And it will be found, more and more, as Photography advances, that among those who are equal in chemical skill, some will get ten dollars, and others fifty cents, for pictures of the same size, for no reason but because their taste and artistic skill are superior.

But it is not often enough that artists will apply closely enough to the chemical department to become masters of it. Nor is it absolutely necessary that they should do so; for the requisite skill may be hired for ten or fifteen dollars per week; and the artist may confine his attention to the part which pertains to him, and leave the rest to others who are superior to himself in their way, as much as he is superior to them in his way. Or, if good operators would see their own deficiencies, perhaps they might join in co-partnership with those who would supply them. The union of artistic taste and science with chemical science and skill would rapidly advance Photography, and make it an invaluable means to cull the beauties from nature, for the use of art, as well as for the gratification of friends.

In some cases, practical artists have turned their attention to daguerreotyping, and their pictures have been superior, in their general effect, to others, although in the chemical effect they might have been far less successful. Among the early experimenters, were some artists and many practical chemists, each excelling in his way, as might have been expected; and a comparison of their productions show that the excellences of the two are required for complete success. But succeeding operators, in most cases, have caught but a smattering of each—a little artistic taste, and a little chemical science and expertness of manipulation; and so we have a multitude of picture makers, of different degrees of skill and taste,—some of them highly respectable, but few indeed who produce such effects as might reasonably be expected from the combination of talent which we have suggested.

But if art is thus required to direct the labors of the Photographer, art itself may receive most useful service in return. We are informed that English artists now go about in the fields with the portable camera and calotype paper, instead of the sketchbook formerly carried; and that such objects as they meet with suitable for materials for their pictures, they seize by this easy and quick process. And it is found to be of great use. The effect of the moment is secured in all its parts; there is no chance for the shadows and lights to change so that the parts may become discordant or out of keeping, as often unavoidably happens in making drawings from landscape. And so in regard to draperies. The stiff artificial log figure, on which drapery never looks natural, is now less used; but the living model sits with the costume required, and all the folds are taken at the same moment, in perfect congruity with each other. From such materials the artist obtains true outlines, true masses of shade and light, and upon this basis the finish is easily given direct from the natural objects.

But artists, as we have said, cannot spare the time necessary to acquire expertness in preparing successfully the delicate and difficult operations of the Photographer. They want the work to be done for them. In London they buy their paper ready prepared, which they take into the fields, and having there exposed it in the camera, they leave the development of the picture to skillful assistants; and the facility for doing this is an advantage which will probably induce artists to prefer the calotype to the daguerreotype. The photographic paper may be kept for some time without injury; but the daguerreotype plate must be prepared for use, and the developing process performed, nearly at the time of the process in the camera.* With proper Photography, there may be a distinct business, consisting of the preparation of the paper for the camera, and the developing and finishing processes, carried on by good chemical manipulators; while artists, in their own studios, or in the woods and fields, perform the part which pertains to themselves,—the camera operations,—at such times as may suit their convenience.

As to the patent right which restricts the use of the paper processes, we think it applies only to Talbot's. Other preparations, by Hunt, Hemkel, and others, are free; and though they may be somewhat less sensitive, yet, for most uses, they are sufficiently sensitive, and the pictures produced by them are as good as Talbot's. Here, then, is a fair opening for those who can acquire the skill to prepare photographic paper, and perform the other processes of the art. With a small stock of good paper and chemicals, and with a few cameras to let, we think they could easily induce artists to try what advantages they might derive from such an aid.

 

* This is a slight mistake. We have known plates that have been coated three months to take the impression of an image as perfect as if just coated, and in a much shorter time than usual with the same sensitive. Mr. Claudet, of London, has remarked the same circumstance.—ED.



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