Nineteenth-Century Texts On the Daguerreotype

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The following excerpts from contemporary nineteenth-century newspapers, magazines, diaries, and artists' notebooks discuss the first appearance of the daguerreotype in America. The earliest examples—from The New Yorker, The Knickerbocker, and the diary of Philip Hone of New York City in 1839—reflect both popular astonishment and an intense curiosity about the future of this new invention. Also included is a history of the daguerreotype in America written by those who had a firsthand role in its history or who were eyewitnesses to its development. These descriptions are a part of artistic accounts and writings on the aesthetics of the daguerreotype by masters of the process or significant observers, such as Rembrandt Peale. These discussions are founded upon craft and technique and in some cases contain technical information.

The daguerreotype was a dual product of science and art, and the role of science—chemistry and optics—in its history cannot be underestimated. Science fosters experimentation, which led, with the daguerreotype, to the invention of a variety of devices for perfecting the actual image; to attempts at color photography, some of which were actually successful; and to the daguerreotyping of objects as distant and vast as the moon and stars and as close and microscopic as the tracheae of worms. Such work was important to the histories of photography and science, and consequently this selection includes scientific writings about the daguerreotype.

Just as science was an intellectual frontier of the nineteenth century, the American West was a physical frontier. Included here are texts that illustrate the daguerreotype's role in the westward movement. The final texts in this selection are laments for the daguerreotype's passing. Long after it had been replaced by the cheaper tintype and paper prints of a negative-based, reproducible photography, the daguerreotype remained a valued, if no longer practiced, tradition.

Merry A. Foresta & John Wood, Secrets of the Dark Chamber

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