When it comes to the origins of Photography there are few individuals who don’t know the name Daguerre. Louis-Jacques-Mandé is known for his invention of the daguerreotype process of photography.
Born on November 18, 1787 in Cormeilles-en-Parisis, Val-d’Oise, France. After studying with Pierre Prévost, the first French panorama painter Daguerre become very accomplished as a theater designer. He is known for the creation of the Diorama, which opened in Paris in 1822. The Diorama in Paris, was an auditorium in which Daguerre and his partner Charles-Marie Bouton displayed immense paintings, The partners painted the scenes on translucent paper or muslin and, by the careful use of changing lighting effects, were able to present vividly realistic tableaux. The views provided grand, illusionistic entertainment.
A Worthy Partnership
Daguerre partnered with Nicéphore Niépce, who was credited with producing the world’s first permanent photograph known as a Heliograph. His photograph was of poor quality and required about eight hours’ exposure time. The process that Daguerre developed in partnership with Niépce required only 20 to 30 minutes. Daguerre believed that one of the reasons that Niépce chose him to partner with was due to his creation of the Diorama.
Together the partners made inroads in the early development of Photography. Niépce died unexpectedly only four years into their partnership. After Niépce’s death Daguerre partnered with his son and in 1839 they obtained a patent from the French Government.
At the same time that Daguerre was hard at work improving his photo process William Fox Talbot was also working on a similar project in England. There appeared to be a race between the two to come up with the winning process. Talbot’s process was used and licensed in England by local photographers.
The Daguerreotype process produces a remarkably detailed, one-of-a-kind photographic image on a highly polished, silver-plated sheet of copper, sensitized with iodine vapors, exposed in a large box camera, developed in mercury fumes, and stabilized with salt water. Although Daguerre was required to reveal, demonstrate, and publish detailed instructions in order to gain a patent for the process he was smart enough to retain the patent on the equipment necessary to practice his new process.
One of the first Daguerre photographs to be seen was entitled “Boulevard du Temple” which was taken in 1838 in Paris. It was the first photography of a person. The image also showed a street but with a ten minute long exposure time the traffic does not appear. This photograph showed the improvement made by the partners to the original process. The image could only be viewed by an angle and was housed in a protectivbe glass covered box to protect it from air and fingerprints.
The first true use of Daguerreotypes was for portraits. This was not necessarily an easy process since it required that the subjects remain completely still for several moments until the photo process was completed. When scenic shots were taken they never showed people. It was later realized that this was due to the long exposure which made moving objects invisible. This would later be remedied with the addition of faster lenses.
A Russian Photographer, Sergei Lvovich Levitsky used the Daguerre process in 1843 and the faster lenses were used on a photo exhibited at the Paris Exposition of the Second Republic as an advertisement of their lenses. The use of the faster lens increased the focusing ability and allowed for capture of moving objects. His picture received the Exposition's gold medal; the first time a prize of its kind had ever been awarded to a photograph. The Daguerreotype is often referred to as the Polaroid of the time since it produced an instant image which was not reproducible. Despite this fact that millions of Daguerreotypes were produced.
Unfortunately neither Daguerre’s telescopic or his microscopic daguerreotypes can be seen since his laboratory burned to the ground destroying all of his equipment and his written records. Today there are fewer than 25 of his photos in existance.
Daguerre died in Bry-sur-Marne, near Paris in 1851.
Daguerre and the Invention of Photography