History of Photography



Introduction  
History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary






 


THE STORY BEHIND THE PICTURES 1827-1991

 

1   Nicephore Niepce. View from the Study Window, 1827

2   Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre. Boulevard du Temple, 1838

3   Eugene Durieu/Eugene Delacroix. Nude from Behind, ca. 1853

4   Duchenne de Boulogne. Contractions musculaires, 1856

5   Auguste Rosalie Bisson. The Ascent of Mont Blanc, 1862

6   Nadar. Sarah Bernhardt, ca. 1864

7   Francois Aubert. Emperor Maximilian's Shirt, 1867

8   Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi. Dead Communards, 1871

9   Maurice Guibert. Toulouse-Lautrec in His Studio, ca. 1894

10 Max Priester/Willy Wilcke. Bismarck on his Deathbed, 1898

11 Heinrich Zille. The Wood Gatherers, 1898

12 Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage, 1907

13 Lewis Hine. Girl Worker in a Carolina Cotton Mill, 1908

14 August Sander. Young Farmers, 1914

15 Paul Strand. Blind Woman, 1916

16 Man Ray. Noire et blanche, 1926

17 Andre Kertesz. Meudon, 1928

18 Robert Capa. Spanish Loyalist, 1936

19 Dorothea Lange. Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936

20 Horst P. Horst. Mainbocher Corset, 1939

21 Henri Cartier-Bresson. Germany, 1945

22 Richard Petersen. View from the Dresden City Hall Tower, 1945

23 Robert Doisneau. The Kiss in Front of City Hall, 1950

24 Dennis Stock. James Dean on Times Square, 1955

25 Bert Stern. Marilyn's Last Sitting, 1962

26 Gerard Malanga. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, 1966

27 Helmut Newton. They're Coming!, 1981

28 Sandy Skoglund. Revenge of the Goldfish, 1981

29 Robert Mapplethorpe. Lisa Lyon, 1982

30 Joel-Peter Witkin. Un Santo Oscuro, 1987

31 Sebastiao Salgado. Kuwait, 1991

 

 

see also:
 

DAGUERRE Louis JACQUES MANDE

 



Chapter 2

 

 


1838
 


Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre
 

 

Boulevard du Temple
 

 

Around 1835, Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre succeeded for the first time in fixing permanent photographic images through the process that later became known by his name. His most famous daguerreotype, almost taken in the spring of 1838, was long thought to be the first image of a human figure.

 

The image was anything but perfect - its creator realized this full well. The painter, inventor, and diorama owner Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre belongs - together with Niepce and Talbot - to the great triumvirate of photographic history. Of the three, however, Daguerre was surely the most skilled tactician, possessing what we would today call a highly developed sense of PR. Ever since the 1820s, Daguerre had been looking for a process to enable the technical production of pictures based on the images produced by the camera obscura. Finally, in 1835 he achieved success, and now the issue became how best to exploit the potential of the new medium. Daguerre's view othe Boulevard du Temple was intended to be a link in a visual chain of argumentation for his new process. Admittedly, as remarkable as his picture was for the conditions of his time (or rather, for the limitations of his process), his 5 x 6 1/2-inch format image remained nonetheless modest in comparison with what painting, drawing, or graphics could offer. In short, from the very beginning, photography had to compete with the 'fine arts'. And in this contest, the new medium labored under numerous disadvantages: Daguerre's photograph, for example, reproduced the reality it sought to capture in very small format - and 'merely' in black-and-white (as the early critics noted with disappointment as early as 1839). Furthermore, the photograph, which consisted of a single direct plate, was necessarily a reverse image, and on top of this, the reflecting surfaces othe plate itself interfered with viewing the image: according to how one held the daguerreotype, the picture flipped from a positive to a negative image. But perhaps worst of all was that nothing was to be seen of the pulsating life ofthe Boulevard with its trade and activity and traffic, in the form of carts and horse-drawn wagons. These were left to be imagined. The deadening effect of the daguerreotype is evident in an encyclopedia entry for "Paris" written in 1866, which describes precisely this length of the Boulevard as the former "main square for the true life of the people of Paris, ... [where] quacks, somnambulists, rope-dancers, etc., compete with lots of larger and smaller theaters, whose audiences as a rule found entertainment in such blood-curdling pieces that the street was called the boulevard du crime." Our picture, however, conveys none of this. In the left foreground is merely a gentleman in a frock coat, a tiny figure, apparently having his shoes polished - and even contemporaries suspected that Daguerre had hired two people to play the parts by maintaining a pose for the still lengthy exposure time of several minutes. As Jean-Pierre Montier once put it, their shadows were "impregnated" onto the plate. Whatever the case, this picture remains the first photographic image of a human being, or rather, two of them - if one omits the recently discovered portrait of a certain "M. Huet", dated 1837, also attributed to Daguerre.


Triptych with three daguerreotypes for King Ludwig I of Bavaria

 

Curious onlookers are unwelcome

A view out the window. A view from above down into a world that now existed to be photographically explored, investigated, exploited, and recorded. Niepce had already gazed out of the window of his estate in Le Gras. Talbot, the inventor of the negative-positive process and Daguerre's true competitor in the struggle for the copyright to photography, had already bequeathed us even more than a view from a window: perhaps the most famous of his works is his calotype of the Boulevard des Capucines. As so often in the early stages of photography, the photographers here, too, consciously turned to a theme that had already been formulated by traditional panel and canvas painting. In the early days of photography, when a photographer aimed a camera out a window - whether from his house (Niepce), his room (Daguerre), or even a hotel (Talbot) -he had a completely pragmatic reason, beyond that of iconographic reverence for the traditions of painting. These early researchers feared too much publicity and sought to exclude a curious audience from taking note of their endeavors. This was one reason they searched out a photographic 'hiding place'. Furthermore, their work was easier if they could conduct it close to the home laboratory; more precisely, the lab was what made early photography possible in the first place. The French science minister Arago estimated that the preparatory work for a single daguerreotype amounted to 30-45 minutes - and Daguerre wanted always to make three exposures in a row for the sake of underlining the usefulness of his process, so to speak: one taken in the morning, one at noontime, and one in the afternoon.

We find ourselves at 5 rue des Marais. We can be fairly certain that it was from the window of his private apartment that Daguerre made his three exposures, ofwhich only two have survived, albeit in heavily damaged condition. Anyone looking for the house today is on a fool's errand, for the rue des Marais, like so many tranquil - or, phrased negatively, dim -corners of old Paris fell victim to the colossal urban renovations of Baron Haussmann. But we can imagine the house to be approximately where the Boulevard de Magenta runs into the Place de la Republique, that is, in the 10th Arrondissement, In Daguerre's day, Paris housed around 800,000 inhabitants. The city limits in the west were defined by the Field of Mars, in the east by the Pere Lachaise, in the south by the Montparnasse Cemetery, and in the north by today's Pigalle. This is the Paris of Balzac and Hugo, Ingres, Delacroix, and the young Dumas - the Paris in which Rodin would be born in 1840, Sarah Bernhardt in 1844. All this makes the city sound like the world art capital - which the city certainly was in the nineteenth century. But Paris was something else as well, namely narrow, dark, close, dirty, and in this age before sewers, filled with what was then called a miasma. As the writer Maxime Ducamp pertin¨ently remarked, "Paris as it existed on the eve of the Revolution of 1848 had become unlivable."

A pictorial diversion for the broad masses

In the spring of 1838, Daguerre tuned the lens of his camera obscura, which had been built by the Paris opticians Charles and Vincent Chevalier, down onto the Boulevard du Temple. He was not at all interested in a nostalgic look at 'Old Paris' threatened with (possible) extinction; that is a theme that such photographers as Atget would explore decades later. Instead, Daguerre, wholly in the role of a technician and inventor, sought within the panorama of his city a picture that would be at once as rich in detail, as sharp and effective, and as large as possible (in spite of the very small aperture) - and that at the same time that could function as a metaphor of the cradle of the invention. And in fact it was the many tiny objects in the picture that captivated the first viewers of the photograph. Among these was no less a figure than the American painter and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, who looked up Daguerre in Paris in March 1839 "to see these admirable results." Morse expressed himself charmed "by the exquisite minuteness of the delineation" but noted at the same time: "Objects moving are not impressed. The Boulevard, so constantly filled with a moving throng of pedestrians and carriages was perfectly solitary, except an individual who was having his boots brushed." The Parisian inventor, born Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre in 1787, already had several careers behind him as a scenic artistic, stage and costume designer, and the creator and director of a diorama, before he developed an interest in the possibility of permanently capturing the fleeting images produced by the camera obscura. Daguerre was what we might today call a media person - someone who recognized the need of his times for pictures and sought to commercialize this need in as many ways as possible. Whereas the diorama offered an almost archaic form of the cinema - a pictorial diversion for the broad public, a spectacle produced by means of illusionistic painting united with skilled lighting effects -the new medium of photography, which still remained to be invented, sought a process of picture-making that would correspond to the positivist age: a process at once fast and exact, economical and objective. Daguerre, who had worked together with Nicephore Niepce, had realized the light sensitivity of silver iodide already in 1831, a discovery which in turn led him to an improvement in the process that bears his name. A pop-ular anecdote claims that in 1835 it was merely by chance that Daguerre discovered the so-called latent image, which meant that the exposure time could be reduced to a sensational 20 to 30 minutes - thus raising Daguerre's hopes for the genre of picture that was of greatest interest to him, namely the portrait.

 Louis JACQUES MANDE DAGUERRE.
 Boulevard du Temple, Paris, c. 1838. Daguerreotype. Bayerisches NationaJmuscum, Munich.

 

The delicacy of the contours, the purity of the forms

The daguerreotype, however fascinating, has always been termed a dead end of photography - an accusation that refers primarily to the production of a single, irreproducible plate, in contradiction to the real aim of an economical mass medium. The daguerreotype has in fact neither predecessors nor successors. All of this may be true, but nevertheless overlooks the importance of daguerreotypy as the first truly practical photographic process, which in some countries - such as the USA - remained viable until into the 1860s. From the technical point of view, the daguerreotype is a direct positive image in a (then) maximum full-plate format of 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches. To produce a picture, a silvered copper plate was sensitized with iodine vapor, exposed in the camera obscura, developed in mercury steam, and finally fixed in a solution of salt or sodium thiosulfate. The result was a reflective and one-of-a-kind image, whose finely chiseled lines, even down to tiny details and shadings of tone, produced a picture of the world that addressed the scientific interests of the time. Daguerre's discovery placed him on the horns of a dilemma. His process was still far from mature, especially because portraits, which at this point continued to require an exposure time of ten minutes in sunlight, remained more or less out of the question. On the other hand, the inventor was involved in an international race, and he felt intense pressure to go public with his process. Therefore, in the autumn of 1838, Daguerre appealed to leading scientists for help in interesting the government in his invention. He found his chief supporter in Francois Arago, the secretary of the Academy of Sciences. It would also be Arago who convinced the French Parlement to buy the rights of the process and to make it internationally available. On 19 August 1839, the two official bodies held their memorable meeting in which the technical details of daguerreotypy were presented. The age of photography had begun. The initial reports concerning the announced discovery appeared early in 1839, and the photographs of the Boulevard du Temple became the focus of amazement among contemporary scholars and journalists. The Pfennig Magazin, for example, announced in 1839 that in one of the pictures, a man could be seen "having his boots polished," and continued, "He must have held himself extremely still, for he can be very clearly seen, in contrast to the shoeshine man, whose ceaseless movement causes him to appear completely blurred and imprecise." What intrigued John Robin-son, the secretary of the Royal Society of Arts, were the differences be-tween the three plates caused by the changes in light. In addition, "delicacy of the outlines, the purity of the forms, and the precision and harmony of the tones, the aerial perspective, the thoroughness of even the smallest details" also earned praise (Eduard Ko 11 off, 1839). Daguerre's invention was clearly greeted as a sensation. Soon 'daguerreotypomania' spread throughout France and the rest of Europe.

Excitement among artists and art-lovers

We do not know precisely what moved Daguerre late in 1839 to send a sample of his 'artworks' to the ruling houses of Russia, Prussia, and Aus-tria. Gernsheim (1983) speculates about an initiative of the French foreign minister; in any case, the list of selected monarchs included the Bavarian King Ludwig I, who received - along with a dedication by Daguerre -what were even then already the world's most famous photographs, namely two of the three views of the Boulevard du Temple and, in the middle of the framed triptych, a still life which has not survived, along with an inscription by Daguerre. "Noon" wrote the photographer in his own hand under the picture on the left. "Huit heures du matin" (eight o'clock in the morning) is legible below the photograph with the shoeshine man - information that later formed the basis of the attempt to determine the exact date of the picture. Using contemporary maps and diagrams, and taking into account the length of the shadows and the camera position of 51 1/2 feet above the street, Peter von Waldhausen has been able to date the view of the boulevard to the period between 24 April and 4 May 1838. The identity of the shoeshine man and his customer, however, remain matters for speculation.

In October 1839, the three daguerreotypes arrived in Munich, where they were on display at the Arts Association after 20 October. They immediately caused excitement, particularly among "artists and art-lovers." According to commentary in the Ailgemeine Zeitung, the pictures were absolutely free of error and "by demonstrating all the advantages and wonder of the [new] invention, they teach us also about its relation to art." After the exhibit closed, the daguerreotypes returned to the private royal household, and after the regent's death, became part of the collection at the National Museum of Bavaria. The pictures, however, received no special attention, at times being included in the permanent exhibit. As a part of this collection, they were evacuated for storage during the Second World War, and were heavily damaged. In any case, by the time the plates were turned over by the National Museum to the Munich Photography Museum as a permanent loan, they were suffering so severely from oxidation that the still life in the center - a picture contradictorily described by contemporaries - was totally beyond recognition. An in expert attempt at cleaning Daguerre's two remaining plates in the "1970s succeeded only in erasing their content. Thus, one hundred forty years after their creation, nothing more of the Boulevard du Temple was to be seen. The photohistorian Beaumont Newhall, however, had earlier made reproductions of the plates for an exhibit at the New York Museum of Modern Art entitled "Photography 1839-1937." Based on these plates, Peter Dost of Nuremberg and Bernd Renard of Kiel were able to produce facsimiles. Our Boulevard du Temple as seen on these pages is thus no more than a technical (i.e., screened) translation of the original daguer-reotype based on one of the modern reproductions of the original plate. As cynical as it may sound as far as the cultural loss is concerned, photography as a technical pictorial medium nonetheless won the day.




Louis JACQUES MAND£ DAGUERRE.
Still Life, 1837. Daguerreotype. Societe Franc.aise de Photographic, Paris.

 

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