These two photographs are believed to be the oldest and second oldest photos ever taken of New York.
The top photo is a daguerrotype believed to have been taken in 1848. It shows a surprisingly bucolic scene—you’d never guess that the road in the foreground is actually Broadway. Actually, at the time it was “a continuation of Broadway,” according to a note that was included with the daguerrotype. This means that the road in the photo is likely Bloomingdale Road which became Broadway in 1899.
The photo below is a daguerrotype of Chatham Street in downtown Manhattan, taken between 1848 and 1853. Figuring out the exact date is complicated for a number of reasons. It’s a pretty fascinating vista, though. Who knew there were so many awnings in the mid-19th century?
In 1840, John W. Draper became the first person to photograph a celestial object when he took a daguerrotype image of the Moon. As his technique improved, Draper captured more detail of craters and other features on the moon’s surface. It quickly became clear that photography would revolutionize astronomy. Astronomers began to use photographs to collect precise records of the position, brightness, spectra and features of celestial objects, and no longer had to rely on their hand-drawn sketches and log notes. The first daguerrotypes and photographs were not very sensitive and were complicated to use.
#tbt to MoMA’s first photography show, Photography 1839–1937, organized three years prior to the establishment of the Department of Photography. This ambitious, sweeping exhibition was the most comprehensive ever to be held in the US. More than 800 photographs, from the earliest Daguerrotypes to contemporary works by Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Brassaï and others, filled four floors of the Museum. In the accompanying catalogue, curator Beaumont Newhall, who would go on to become the first director of MoMA’s Department of Photography, revealed the exhibition’s guiding question: “Even at the risk of falling into philosophical quagmires,” he wrote, “the question, ‘Is photography art?’ cannot be ignored.” Both the exhibition and Newhall’s catalogue essay explored this issue by examining the history of photography both as an art and as a means of communication, taking into account the entire purview of the medium.
Read the out-of-print catalogue, see installation views, and more at mo.ma/2omZxtu. 31 of #52exhibitions
Photographer Binh Danh spends his summers tooling around various national parks in a distinctive white van that doubles as a darkroom. “I nicknamed it ‘Louis’ after Louis Daguerre,” the 38-year-old says, smiling from behind his professorial glasses. Louis Daguerre invented the daguerreotype in the 1830s, and Binh Danh has reinvented it for today. Using handmade materials, Danh coats sheets of copper with silver, polishes the plates to a blinding gleam and synthesizes them with iodine to create crystals that act as pixels.
Danh’s work is part of a larger tradition: More than 100 years ago, early photographers helped publicize the beauty of the national parks. Indeed, the parks might not have existed if it weren’t for photographers like Carleton Watkins and Charles Weed, whose Yosemite images helped persuade Congress to establish the first national park.