History of Photography: Daguerre Pictures

Daguerre Louis-Jacques-Mandé (November 18, 1787, Cormeilles, France — July 10, 1851, Bry-sur-Marne) was a French artist and inventor, and one of the creators of photography. He developed (with the help of Niépce's experiments) the first practical relevant photography method - daguerrotypy (1839).

Daguerre Louis Jacques Mande
Daguerre Louis Jacques Mande

Daguerre was a customs official and later a scene-painter in opera. In 1822 he opened a diorama in Paris - a huge building with huge paintings in it. In the process of the creation and perfection of these paintings he was probably prompted to starting experiments in photography. He knew the camera obscura and used it to make sketches from nature for creating an illusion of reality in his diorama.

Daguerre did not invent photography (Niépce did that before him), but he made it practical and popular. In 1829 he negotiated a developmental contract with Niépce to develop the method of heliography. After 1829 and till his death in 1833 Niépce and his son Isidor, who became Daguerre's partner upon father's death, did not manage to develop their invention. But Daguerre, who worked independently, moved forward. His idea was to obtain an image on a bright surface of a silver plate sodden with iodide vapors, which made it photosensitive. He put the plate into a camera obscura, exposed, and developed with mercury vapors.

He achieved results in 1837, after 11 years of experiments. He fixed the image developed with the mercury vapors by bathing it in a strong solution of salt and hot water. After 1839 he changed salt in the fixation process to natrium sulfate — a locating fixture discovered by John Herschel. As a result the silver iodide particles that had not been influenced by light washed away. Exposure time in the camera obscura was between 15 and 30 minutes (whereas Niépce heliography required up to 8 hours).

The first daguerrrotype made by Daguerre - a still life of paintings and sculpture. Made in 1837.

The whole process produced a single photo - a positive, named a daguerreotype by the author. It was impossible to produce several such plates. The image on a plate was mirror-like and you could have a good look at it only in certain light. But Daguerre, in obtaining daguerreotype images, "drawn by light", managed to do without not only the artist's work but also the one of an engraver. It was this feature that made the process accessible and practical. Daguerre strolled about the streets of Paris with a heavy camera and bulky equipment, made his daguerreotypes in boulevards, arousing interest in people, but did not explain the essence of his method.

To get profit out of his discovery Daguerre tried to create a corporation by public subscription first. After the failure of this he made an attempt to sell the invention for a quarter of a million francs. But none of money-makers bought it. Then Daguerre decided to evoke the interest of the scientists and reported his invention to a well known and influential astronomer and physicist D.F. Arago. January 7, 1839 Arago reported the works of Daguerre to the French Academy and offered the French government to by the patent. The announcement of the daguerrotypy made a sensation. Scientific journals printed Arago's report. Daguerre became widely known exactly because of this invention, the diorama was popular too (Balzac's characters mention it as a sensation more than once), but it had burned to ashes just a few months before.

Daguerre showed daguerreotypes of Paris views to writers, painters and newspaper editors, who made his invention popular, and he asked 200 thousand francs for it. At the same time he told Isidore Niépce that with the deal being successful he would divide the sum between them. But he did not manage to sell the invention. Then Arago convinced Daguerre that a pension from the French government would be an honor and a national reward to him. Daguerre was granted 6 thousand francs a year for his lifetime and Isidore Niépce - 4 thousand francs. Daguerre became also a knight of Ordre national de la Legion d'honneur. In the same year he received a patent in England.

Daguerre concentrated on popularization of the daguerreotype process: he arranged demonstrations for artists and scientists. Together with his relative A.Giroud he began to produce daguerreotype cameras for sale. Half of the profit went to Giroud, the other half Daguerre divided between himself and Isidor Niépce.

Later that year Giroud published Daguerre's instructions on how to use his camera and all the cameras and instructions were sold out in a few days. This instruction was republished for 30 times in France. Within a year it was translated into many languages and reprinted in the capitals of Europe and USA.

Soon scientists, artists and amateurs developed Daguerre's process. They reduced exposure time to several minutes. The use of a prism made it possible to obtain a normal, not mirror-like daguerreotype image. Daguerreotypes reproduced the finest detail of the taken objects. By 1841 a smaller camera was created, and its weight was 10 times reduced. Some means to preserve the daguerreotype surface from damage and scratches were created as well.

Daguerre's fame and recognition grew as his method of obtaining images spread around the world. But after he published the facts about his process Daguerre did not bring anything new into photography. He lived a secluded life not far from Paris until his death in 1851.