This week in 1890, this Daguerre Memorial was dedicated!
This memorial commemorates photography pioneer, Louis Daguerre, inventor of the daguerreotype. The Photographer’s Association of America presented the memorial to the people of the United States in a ceremony at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building on April 15, 1890, where it was installed in an alcove. In 1897, it was moved outside to the Smithsonian Grounds so visitors could see the whole piece. The statue was removed from the Mall in 1969 to make way for the Hirshhorn Museum. Today, it stands on the grounds of the National Portrait Gallery.
Ghosts of the Past - Decayed Daguerreotypes from the Matthew Brady Studio, 1844-1860
Daguerreotype portraits were made by the model posing (often with head fixed in place with a clamp to keep it still the few minutes required) before an exposed light-sensitive silvered copper plate, which was then developed by mercury fumes and fixed with salts. This fixing however was far from permanent – like the people they captured the images too were subject to change and decay. They were extremely sensitive to scratches, dust, hair, etc, and particularly the rubbing of the glass cover if the glue holding it in place deteriorated. As well as rubbing, the glass itself can also deteriorate and bubbles of solvent explode upon the image.
The daguerreotypes above are from the studio of Matthew Brady, one of the most celebrated 19th century American photographers, best known for his portraits of celebrities and his documentation of the American Civil War which earned him the title of “father of photojournalism”. The Library of Congress received the majority of the Brady daguerreotypes as a gift from the ArmyWar College in 1920.
At first glance, the photos above might seem like products of a dark room disaster, but they’re actually modern-day daguerreotypes. Instead of flexible negatives you think of with film, daguerreotypes use silver plated copper.
Tessa Traeger was given a treasure trove of old-fashioned camera equipment when a family member passed away. Instead of moving it to another attic, she decided to try her hand at the difficult technique.
Portrait of a Yeoman, Cornelius Jabez Hughes. Portrait of a Girl in Blue Dress, about 1854, Antoine Claudet. Portrait of a Young Man Seated at a Table, about 1852, Richard Beard. The J. Paul Getty Museum
Poet Rupert Brooke, who Yeats called “the handsomest young man in England” and who Virginia Woolf bragged about skinny-dipping with, posing as Comus, the Greek god of “nocturnal dalliances” sometime prior to 1915, the year he died of an infected mosquito bite off the coast of Greece.
Portrait of a Man, about 1854, Unknown maker. J. Paul Getty Museum. Portrait of a Man Reading a Newspaper, about 1842, John Plumbe, Jr. J. Paul Getty Museum. [Portrait of an Asian Man in Top Hat], about 1856, James P. Weston. J. Paul Getty Museum.