2005-07-22 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

Rockaway Artists Alliance Daguerreotypes
by Susan Hartenstein

Rockaway Artists Alliance
Daguerreotypes – Brilliant Early Photography And Where To View It


9 Southworth & Hawes, American, active ca. 1845-61. [Reverend Rollin Heber Neale], ca. 1850. Whole plate daguerreotype. George Eastman House Collection.
9 Southworth & Hawes, American, active ca. 1845-61. [Reverend Rollin Heber Neale], ca. 1850. Whole plate daguerreotype. George Eastman House Collection. For years a method was sought to directly fix the image of objects thrown by a lens onto a surface. What was needed was a medium that would be sensitive to light, forming an image on that medium using a lens and light. That medium also had to be made insensitive to further exposure so that the image would remain when viewed in light. Much experimentation with papers and plates and light-sensitive chemicals took place in the early 1800’s, with varying degrees of success. In 1839 both Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, a French artist, and William Fox Talbot, an English amateur scientist, separately publicized different practical methods of photography. Talbot’s method created soft, painterly paper negatives from which paper prints were made. Daguerre’s produced sharp one-of-a-kind images on metal plates – images of clarity, brilliance and depth. In this process a silver-plated copper sheet was treated with iodine to make it light sensitive then exposed in a camera and the images were developed in warm mercury vapor. Within a brief time improvements were made in equipment, lenses and chemistry so that portraits could be done in relatively short exposures. It was the “daguerreotype” that became wildly popular in the 1830’s and 1840’s with entrepreneurs, practitioners and the public, and only later did the negative/positive photograph, after much evolution, become the preferred technique. In the late 1850’s cheaper ambrotypes, tintypes and paper prints from glass negatives that could be re-produced at less cost in high numbers took over the commercial market. During the Civil War soldiers were able to carry around the paper prints of family members more easily than the heavier daguerreotype that that were recorded on metal plate and needed to be protected under glass and frame. The war itself was recorded on the easily reprinted glass plate negative method. But the daguerreotype process continued to be used over time and even today, by those who appreciate its superior qualities.

Photography and specifically the clear, brilliant realistic daguerreotypes produced a revolution in the public’s expectations of the images of our society. It made portraiture accessible to people other than only those who could afford the portrait artist. In their visual immediacy, these daguerreotypes were considered to capture the recorded “truth,” rather than the second-hand interpretations of the paint artist.

On view at the International Center of Photography (ICP) through September 4 is Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth and Hawes , which reveals the beauty of the best of these surviving metal plates . Unfortunately, many of the daguerreotypes that survive are small and in bad physical condition. But Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes enjoyed a very successful partnership from 1843 until 1863, in which they developed artistic and technical methods that produced large stunningly realistic images with subtle textures and tones in which the subjects seem to come to three-dimensional life on a two-dimensional surface. They were artists as well as technicians. Included among the pictures is a study of clouds and of frost shapes on a window. A skylight in their Boston studio covered the full figure of their subjects in a well-defined mild light and extended to both sides of the room. They positioned the subject under the light, so as to model the face and figure in light and transparent well-defined shadows and achieve a balance in the highlights, shadows and middle tints. They catered mostly to those in high society and the famous, both foreign and domestic. Their clientele could afford and aesthetically appreciate the best. So much of their work survives today due to precautions taken to insure the permanence of the highly polished metal plates and their images. These precautions include gilding the plates with a leaf of pure California Gold.

A photograph is a memory that extends through time, each time it is viewed by those who remember.

Forget-Me-Not: Photography and Remembrance , also at ICP through September 4, explores the practice of embellishing photographs with physical objects relating to or associated with the person photographed. The goal is to extend the memory into the physical world, beyond the picture alone and to elicit the presence of the subject. These “accessories” include paint, embroidery, hair, butterfly wings, text and more.

There are some 65 works on view, created by ordinary people, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. ICP is located at 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43 Street. For more information log onto: www.icp.org.

For years a method was sought to directly fix the image of objects thrown by a lens onto a surface. What was needed was a medium that would be sensitive to light, forming an image on that medium using a lens and light. That medium also had to be made insensitive to further exposure so that the image would remain when viewed in light. Much experimentation with papers and plates and light-sensitive chemicals took place in the early 1800’s, with varying degrees of success. In 1839 both Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, a French artist, and William Fox Talbot, an English amateur scientist, separately publicized different practical methods of photography. Talbot’s method created soft, painterly paper negatives from which paper prints were made. Daguerre’s produced sharp one-of-a-kind images on metal plates – images of clarity, brilliance and depth. In this process a silver-plated copper sheet was treated with iodine to make it light sensitive then exposed in a camera and the images were developed in warm mercury vapor. Within a brief time improvements were made in equipment, lenses and chemistry so that portraits could be done in relatively short exposures. It was the “daguerreotype” that became wildly popular in the 1830’s and 1840’s with entrepreneurs, practitioners and the public, and only later did the negative/positive photograph, after much evolution, become the preferred technique. In the late 1850’s cheaper ambrotypes, tintypes and paper prints from glass negatives that could be re-produced at less cost in high numbers took over the commercial market. During the Civil War soldiers were able to carry around the paper prints of family members more easily than the heavier daguerreotype that that were recorded on metal plate and needed to be protected under glass and frame. The war itself was recorded on the easily reprinted glass plate negative method. But the daguerreotype process continued to be used over time and even today, by those who appreciate its superior qualities.

Photography and specifically the clear, brilliant realistic daguerreotypes produced a revolution in the public’s expectations of the images of our society. It made portraiture accessible to people other than only those who could afford the portrait artist. In their visual immediacy, these daguerreotypes were considered to capture the recorded “truth,” rather than the second-hand interpretations of the paint artist.

On view at the International Center of Photography (ICP) through September 4 is Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth and Hawes , which reveals the beauty of the best of these surviving metal plates . Unfortunately, many of the daguerreotypes that survive are small and in bad physical condition. But Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes enjoyed a very successful partnership from 1843 until 1863, in which they developed artistic and technical methods that produced large stunningly realistic images with subtle textures and tones in which the subjects seem to come to three-dimensional life on a two-dimensional surface. They were artists as well as technicians. Included among the pictures is a study of clouds and of frost shapes on a window. A skylight in their Boston studio covered the full figure of their subjects in a well-defined mild light and extended to both sides of the room. They positioned the subject under the light, so as to model the face and figure in light and transparent well-defined shadows and achieve a balance in the highlights, shadows and middle tints. They catered mostly to those in high society and the famous, both foreign and domestic. Their clientele could afford and aesthetically appreciate the best. So much of their work survives today due to precautions taken to insure the permanence of the highly polished metal plates and their images. These precautions include gilding the plates with a leaf of pure California Gold.

A photograph is a memory that extends through time, each time it is viewed by those who remember. Forget-Me-Not: Photography and Remembrance , also at ICP through September 4, explores the practice of embellishing photographs with physical objects relating to or associated with the person photographed. The goal is to extend the memory into the physical world, beyond the picture alone and to elicit the presence of the subject. These “accessories” include paint, embroidery, hair, butterfly wings, text and more. There are some 65 works on view, created by ordinary people, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. ICP is located at 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43 Street. For more information log onto: www.icp.org.

9 Southworth & Hawes, American, active ca. 1845-61. [Reverend Rollin Heber Neale], ca. 1850. Whole plate daguerreotype. George Eastman House Collection

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