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"Photography in the United States"
Photographic Art-Journal, June 1853

The art of photography—more popularly known as Daguerreotyping—is brought to so great a perfection in this country, and prosecuted on a scale of such magnitude, and the different manufactures connected with it are of such importance, especially in this city, that we propose giving a few details respecting them.…

The daguerrean galleries of this city are among the primary objects of interest to visitors, and the collections here presented are incomparably superior to any to be found in a European metropolis, without exception. Many of them, too, are adorned with portraits of the most eminent of our citizens, statesmen, jurists, soldiers, physicians, and men of letters, whilst in others, fac-similies of well-known scenes are to be found. Among so many first-rate artists as are established in this city, it would be invidious to mention one or two to the exclusion of the rest—it will therefore suffice to say, that at the great exhibition of 1851, three medals of the first class were awarded to as many American competitors, whose superiority in that friendly struggle was incontestable in this department. Indeed with the exception of Claudet, whose valuable discoveries more than his artistic excellence procured him the award of a council medal, our artists were not only superior, but on the whole, unapproachable, whether from the competition of English, French, or German. The reason of this may be found in the greater cheapness of daguerreotype pictures here over those in Europe, caused equally by the more universal demand in this country, and by the profession there, being held in check by vexations and costly patents, (which, we think, ought never to have been granted, the original idea having been purchased for the world by the French Government), which confine it within a limited circle of practitioners, and those, in all probability, less lovers of the art than followers of it as a means of livelihood, while here the number employed, and their constant practice, cause an improvement, either in the manipulation, or in some chemical process, to be of frequent occurrence. We may say, in a word, that in Europe there are more learned works written, and here the best pictures made; there they speculate and experiment, while we work; they are unrivaled in theory, we at the highest present point of the art in practice; though we freely admit that the rapid improvement made has been much aided by the chemical experiments of European philosophers. Few visitors to these galleries have any idea of the importance of the trades and manufactures connected with the photographic art—a few statistics will probably be found interesting.

In the cities of New York and Brooklyn, there are upward of 100 daguerrean establishments, giving direct employment to about 250 men, women and boys, though the number who derive support from the art in the United States, in all its branches, is variously estimated at from 13,000 to 17,000, including those working in the manu-factories. For some years a great proportion of daguerreotype goods were imported from Europe, principally from France; those made here being considered by operators as much inferior, especially the plates. A great improvement has, however, of late taken place in our production of these articles, and it will be seen by the number of persons employed, as given above, that this is now quite an important branch of domestic industry, there being in this city alone six large establishments for the making, importation and sale of photographic goods, the amount of cash invested being about $300,000, and the annual sale of materials, $1,000,000.

It is estimated that there cannot be less than 3,000,000 daguerreotypes taken annually in the United States; Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore being extensively engaged in the trade, but not equally with New York.

The interests of the science are represented in the Press by two publications—The Photographic Art Journal (monthly) and Humphrey's Journal (semi-monthly), having a joint circulation of 5,000 copies. We learn that the editor of the former (Mr. Snelling) has in press, A Dictionary of the Photographic Art, containing every kind of information at all bearing on the subject of which he treats, and, from the knowledge and ability displayed in his editorial capacity, we are certain that the book will be invaluable to every member of the profession, as well as to those who may desire more detailed information than our limits enable us to give.

While on the Continent the price of a daguerreotype portrait prohibits its possession, except among the wealthier classes, the cost in this country ranges so as to suit the pockets of the most humble, there being an establishment in New York professing to produce likenesses as low as twenty-five cents a piece, while as much as fifty dollars, or even more, are willingly given in other instances for a single portrait. Of course, in the latter case, the highest artistic excellence is arrived at, and a considerable portion of the expense is entailed by the handsome frame in which the picture is placed.

The method adopted at the present day to procure a photographic picture, differs materially from that of Daguerre's: many improvements, both in the camera and the chemical combinations having been introduced. Daguerre originally employed a single lens; our principal operators use the achromatic lens, one of which is of a magnitude till lately unattainable by the best opticians. By a camera made by Harrison, the operator is enabled to take a portrait nearly life-size, on plates 14 by 17 inches, the lens alone being 6 1/2 inches in diameter; the cost of the apparatus was $400. We are told this is the largest perfect lens ever made, yet the manufacturer expects shortly to produce another, 9 1/2 inches in diameter. The opticians of Munich, though renowned for their skill, have never yet succeeded in making a lens without flaw, of the size at present in use here. The price of a camera, of the kind in ordinary use, varies with its quality; some being sold as low as $15, and ranging up to $150. The process of procuring portraits varies in some slight respects in different establishments, but we believe the following is the method adopted by our best operators: a plate, composed of copper and silver, in the proportion of one-sixteenth of the latter and the remainder of the former, the silver being on the surface, is brought to a high state of polish by the use of rottenstone, rouge, &c. It is then galvanized, thus receiving a fine coat of pure galvanic silver, when it is repolished, and then submitted to a primary coating of the fumes of dry iodine, and also of bromine or other accelerating compound. Having been carefully shielded from the light, it is then placed in a camera of achromatic lens, through which the reflected rays of the sun upon the sitter are transferred to the plate, when crystalisation takes place. No impression, however, will be visible until the plate be submitted to the heated fumes of mercury, when the picture stands boldly forth, a daguerreotype being nothing more than an amalgamation of mercury and silver. The application of a wash of hyposulphite of soda neutralises and removes the remaining chemicals, after which comes the most important part of the process—that of securing the impression upon the plate, which was discovered by Fizeau, in 1845, till which time daguerreotype impressions were merely transitory. It may be described as enameling or gilding. The plate is covered with a solution, consisting of chloride of gold, hyposulphite of soda, and water, which, worked upon by the agency of heat, fixes the colors of the picture beyond the possibility of their fading. To establish this fact, we have the authority of the eminent Faraday, who declares that a daguerreotype properly gilded by this process can never be naturally erased, and could only be removed by the application of acids or some other agent. The time usually occupied in what is generally called "taking a likeness," is from fifteen to twenty seconds and upwards, yet we witnessed a few days since, in the laboratory of Mr. Williamson, of Brooklyn, a new method by which a perfect picture was taken, by the aid of a galvanic battery, in one second; but as the process is unprotected by patent, we are not at liberty to explain it more fully.

In addition to what we call the daguerreotype proper, just described, are numerous other processes which have been more or less successful and popular; the principal being the daguerreotype on ivory, the crayon daguerreotype, the cameo daguerreotype, the daguerreotype in oil, the talbotype or calotype, the crystalotype, &c.

The daguerreotype on ivory, introduced by Mr. Brady, we believe, consists in the substitution of the material from which it derives its name in the place of a metal plate, and the photographic image is then transferred to a painter in oil colors. This process, which owes its beauty as much to the skill of the artist as to the fidelity of the daguerreotype is very much admired. The daguerreotype in oil is precisely the same as the above, with the exception of an ordinary prepared metal plate being used in the place of ivory.

The crayon daguerreotype is the invention of Mr. J.A. Whipple, of Boston, and is patented by him. The manner of obtaining it is very simple. Over a hoop is stretched a piece of white paper, half of which is removed, leaving the remaining half in the form of a crescent. This is hung in a frame upon pivots, and placed between the sitter and camera in such a manner that the lower portion of the image is cut off from the spectrum. During the exposition of the plate the screen is made to oscillate backward and forward. Instead of the ordinary back ground, a white one is used. This is a most beautiful style of daguerreotype.

The cameo daguerreotype is almost the reverse of the crayon, being simply the head in light and the other parts dark and indistinct, the portrait being prominent as in a cameo-cut picture. When well executed, it presents a very tasteful appearance.

The multiplicity of visitors that are anticipated at the coming Exhibition are being actively provided for by our leading daguerrean artists, whose handsome galleries abundantly prove that hitherto they have not sought the smiles of the public in vain. In addition to the temptation of elegantly furnished rooms, provided with papers and illustrated works to while away the tedium of inevitable delay, a different disposition of the skylight is attempted in one establishment, an improved camera in another, an entirely new process in a third, and so on. Among other experiments, one of our principal operators has tried the effect of a sky-light of blue-glass, under the impression that a picture would be thereby improved: but, owing to the variety of tints in the glass itself, the plan has been found impracticable, and accordingly abandoned. Nevertheless, if in a few cases unsuccessful, it is such attempts as these that have been the means of bringing the daguerrean art in this country to a perfection of which we may justly be proud, and we trust that the enterprise and activity we have lately witnessed in this branch of industry will this year meet again with an abundant public patronage.

We anticipate that the exhibition will add fresh laurels to those which already grace our daguerrean triumphs, as we learn that a large space has been reserved for our leading artists, and we may in all confidence look forward to a display superior even to that in Hyde Park, as we have two years' longer experience to guide us.

We cannot do better than close our article with the words of a foreign writer, an enthusiastic admirer of the photographic art:—

"Aided by the stereoscope, what may we not expect to see realised? Every scene hallowed to our memories by its associations with human progress, in all its varied phases, may be revived before our eyes in all the truthfulness of nature. From the East we may copy the temple and the tombs which tell the story of a strange but poetic creed. Assyria and Egypt may disclose their treasures to those who cannot travel to survey them, in such a form that all doubt of their authenticity must vanish. The harmonious elegance of the remains of Greece and examples of Roman art may thus be easily collected and preserved; and every time honored fane of Europe may be brought home and made to minister to our pleasures—instructing and refining our tastes, and teaching all the mysteries of the beautiful, behind which, as under the shelter of a zephyr-woven veil, we may survey all that is good, and gaze upon the outshadowing of the Divine."


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