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Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre and His Contribution to Photography

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Photography
Wordcount: 2403 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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This essay will investigate Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre focusing primarily on his work and his contribution to Photography. Furthermore, an investigative study paying particular attention to the social, technical, and aesthetic context of his work will explore how he has earned himself the title of a photographic pioneer. Daguerre earned the title due to his successful development of the first practical form of permanent photography. (Telegraph, N.D).

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Louis Daguerre was a photographer who was born on the 18th of November of 1787 in the French region of Cormeilles-en-Parisis in Val-d’Oise. (Mpritchard.com, n.d.) Although Daguerre is a now known as a pioneer of photography, he initially began his career as an artist  serving first and foremost as an apprentice to the leading designer of the Paris Opera. Later, Daguerre assisted the painter of the opera’s magnificent panoramas. In 1814, the salon exhibited Daguerre’s work, and then he worked as an independent stage designer. He co-founded the Diorama, a means of entertainment based on large paintings on semi-transparent linen through transmitted and reflected light. The lighting may be controlled by various changes of seasons or times of day, and these groups of spectators could witness these changes. The straightforward camera obscura or pinhole camera, the process through which light falls through a little opening can be facilitated onto a screen to create an exact picture of something exterior of the box or room. Thus, making a difference in Daguerre’s interest in chemically settling pictures (Madehow.com, n.d.)

In his paper Robinson (2016), states ‘after the death of Niépce, with whom he had collaborated, he continued to experiment with the camera which resulted in the invention of the process that later came to be ‘the daguerreotype’. Pinson (2012) states the ‘Daguerreotype’ was the process in which a permanent photograph, through the use of mercury vapour and iodine-sensitised silvered plating, is achieved. The viewer of the photograph is observant in this scenario due to their ability to identify the picture floating in comparison to other flat photographs – the illusion of reality is what intrigued the viewers. (Anon, n.d.)

The image sits on a mirror-like silver surface. It is preserved under glass and appears as a positive or negative print, depending upon the angle from which the darkest area of the image is bare silver. The lighter areas have a texture showing the process of scattering light. The surface of this type of photograph is delicate and will suffer effortless damage with the lightest of touch.

Ewer, 2008 writes in Gaucheraud, “Fine Arts—The Daguerreotype,” 6 January 1839′, “We have great joy in declaring an important revelation made by M. Daguerre, the distinguished painter of the Diorama. This discovery seems like a prodigy; discombobulating all the theories of science in light and optics and, if accepted, will make a genuine promise to revolutionise the arts of design”. In January 1839, these words were published in La Gazette de France and in the British journal ‘The Literary Gazette’. On this day, in 1839, a crowd of citizens had gathered collectively outside the ‘Institut de France’. In the middle of the room in the academy of science and arts, there sat three distinguished men: Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, a French artist, Isidore Niepce and the astronomer François Arago. (Barger, S. and, White, 2000). The moment in which the revelation of the daguerreotype comes to light is the moment that would change the medium of photography.

Malcolm Daniel, a renowned curator and scholar of photography, clearly explains the principle of the daguerreotype. First,’highly polished, silver-plated sheet of copper, sensitised with iodine vapours’ need to be taken.  Then, it needs exposure in a camera obscura – a black box which is ordinarily used by painters and artists alike who could glance into a reversed reality. Finally, to develop the picture, it requires exposure to ‘mercury fumes’ it ‘with salt water’. ( Daniel M, 2004). Routinely, the object would be framed and often protected with glass. This monochrome picture which could sometimes be hand coloured (Isenburg, M. 2001) and was entirely dependent upon both chemistry and a mechanical process, French chemist Gay-Lussac’s word stated that the daguerreotype was ‘a new art in the middle of an old civilisation’ (Grand Palais, n.d.) According to Maison Nicephore Niepce. N.D, the first images captured were unanimated, including still life photographs and landscapes. The prolonged exposure time daguerreotypes clarified this had initially required. As the exposure time condenses, the images start to represent human subjects. Before Daguerre’s invention, painting and engraving were the only recorded methods of mass reproduction. The latter had reservations for the upper classes. They could conserve it as if it would stand through the tests of time. (Mattiso, B. N.D) However, daguerreotypes had a use for a more unusual type of pictures: post-mortem photography. As Guillaume Roche, a journalist for the French magazine ‘Premiere’ explains, post-mortem daguerreotypes were inspired from the artistic genre ‘memento mori’ that had previously existed in painting. ‘Memento mori’ was a common way to accept human mortality. Today this is no longer considered ‘taboo’. The invention functioned as a solution for those who wished to keep a souvenir of their loved ones. Daguerre had found a way to preserve humanity – to immortalise them . Daguerre had fixed time and reality in a cheap single silver picture, according to Roche, G, N.D.

The daguerreotype is ubiquitous; frequent use concerning this type of photography had an essential role in media outlets such as newspapers and magazines.  His invention was widely acclaimed and sought after due to its rapid success. Sekula (2014) emphasised that the daguerreotypes worldwide success, originating in Europe and gaining popularity in  New York, owed itself to the grand design and presentation by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre.

Despite its rapid success, the daguerreotype lasted for twenty years; the daguerreotype had several faults that made it vulnerable to competition from emerging technologies. To obtain a picture, it took between three and thirty minutes to develop completely. (Danforth, n.d.) Compared to modern digital photography, this process appears dull. From my perspective as modern photographer, the task of remaining still seems to have proved tedious for the subjects, thus justifying the lack of expression displayed in historical photographs. The fragility of the daguerreotype was problematic. They faded over time and needed restoration to revert to their former glory.

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Nevertheless, these photographs were not reproducible; every daguerreotype was unique. The only way to share these photographs amongst peers was through the act of seeing or viewing. Moreover, new competitors had arisen, thus adding to the flaws that already existed concerning Daguerre’s invention. These new adversaries had marked the culmination of Daguerre’s invention, more notably the calotype (also known as the talbotype). The English scientist Talbot had developed this invention; he had patented his device in 1841, and he sued those who used the calotype, inhibiting it from spreading as fast as its French counterpart. This Printing process used paper which proved a less expensive medium. Furthermore, it was reproducible, unlike the daguerreotype. 

‘Boulevard du Temple ‘Is one of the earliest photographs taken by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, circa 1838. The photograph captured a customer getting his shoe polished by a shoe polisher in an empty street in Paris; it was recorded on a copper sheet coated with silver and later on developed with mercury fumes. This photograph captured the image of one of the busiest avenues of Paris. According to Bellis (2013), the exposure used for this photograph was of ten to fifteen minutes. Therefore, those who were not stationary did not appear on film due to the length of the exposure. Had the exposure been anything less than a few minutes they would not have been registered in the frame. These two individuals are placed aesthetically, close to the classical compositional thirds position.

To conclude, the investigation concerning the influence of Louis Daguerre in the world of the ‘arts’ has been successful. It has proven, quite effectively, that his work has changed how we perceive photography; he has revolutionised it!  Daguerre has paved the path to contemporary photography. It serves part of our everyday lives. Photography ranges from being used clinically to advertisement purposes. Furthermore, the up-rise of social media has aided the development of photography while playing a significant role in the distribution of photography. Without Dauggerres invention, photography would not be the medium we now have come to know. Daguerre explicitly demonstrates the way in which an inventor chooses to publish their creation is imperative to its success. The decision to publish one’s findings – a decision an artist must consider – is entirely a decision that must be fueled by their own judgement. However, one may decide to mirror Talbot’s behavior and may decide to keep their findings private. Although, it has come to my attention that even if an invention spreads at a rapid pace, it does not guarantee that its successor will not surpass it. Although there was no elongated timeframe with the daguerreotype, it will remain a poignant turning point in photographic history. 

Bibliography with Extra Reading

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