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Being confronted with the challenge to use his Camera Obscura to help to the drawing of a scenery for his Parisian theatre gives Daguerre the idea to consider the work of Joseph-Nicephore Niépce. Very quickly, the two men decide to collaborate. When he dies in 1833, Niépce leaves an unfinished work. Daguerre, who has shared Niépce's researches, decides to pursue the work of his colleague in order to improve the process of fixing a picture on a metal plate. His objective is to implement a more reliable process, less complex but above all, faster than the one invented by Niépce.
This is done in 1837, and Daguerre decides to give his name to his invention: the "Daguerreotype."

Daguerreotypes are sharply-defined, highly reflective, one-of-a-kind photographs on silver-coated copper plates, packaged behind glass and kept in protective cases.   They appear to have a mirror-like finish that has to be turned first this way and then that in order to view the image on the plate surface.  Daguerreotypes were displayed usually with a solid-brass mat that rested directly on the surface of the daguerreotype.  On top of the mat was placed a clear piece of glass the same size as the daguerreotype image.  Glass, mat, and dag were then held together around the perimeter by what is known as a "preserver" made of lightweight embossed brass that folded over the back side of the daguerreotype.  This "package" was then inserted into a small leather-covered wooden case with a cover that hooked shut over the image to block out damaging rays of light.

The daguerreotype process was the first commercially successful photographic process, and is distinguished by a remarkable clarity of pictorial detail.  Although early daguerreotypes required exposures of several minutes, advances in the process quickly reduced exposure times.  Daguerreotypes were popular through the 1840s and into the 1860s, especially for portrait photography; they were primarily replaced by less-expensive and more easily viewed ambrotypes and tintypes, as well as by the improved negative-positive techniques of collodion on glass negatives and albumen prints.

A century later, only days before the start of the Second World War, the most incredible collection of French daguerreotypes was bought by the Eastman Kodak Company and exported to the United States without raising any outcry from French art representatives. What still remains in France today of these pieces of its great national heritage in photography?  Unfortunately very few things...

Hereunder, some of these great pictures.


United States, c.1850 - 1/6 plate

Exceptionnal daguerreotype on a resilvered plate.



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