History of Photography
History of Photography
A World History of Photography
The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991
ANTOINE FRANCOIS CLAUDET
D. F. MILLET
HERMANN GUNTHER BIOW
CARL FERDINAND STELZNER
JOHN WILLIAM DRAPER
ALBERT SANDS SOUTHWORTH and JOSIAH JOHNSON HAWES
WILLIAM HENRY FOX TALBOT
DAVID OCTAVIUS HILL and ROBERT ADAMSON
A PLENITUDE OF PORTRAITS
From that moment onwards, our
loathsome society rushed, like Narcissus, to contemplate its
trivial image on a metallic plate. A form of lunacy, an
extraordinary fanaticism took hold of these new sun-worshippers.
Charles Baudelaire, 1859
It is required of and should
be the aim of the artist photographer to produce in the likeness
the best possible character and finest expression of which that
face and figure could ever have been capable. But in the result
there is to be no departure from truth in the delineation and
representation of beauty, and expression, and character.
Albert Sands Southworth, 1871
VIRTUALLY FROM ITS INCEPTION, photography has been involved with
portraiture, continuing in a new medium the impulse to represent human
form that goes back to the dawn of art. The daguerreotype and
negative-positive technologies provided the basis for flourishing
commercial enterprises that satisfied the needs for public and private
likenesses, while individuals who wished to express them-selves personally
through portraiture were able to do so using the calotype and collodion
processes. Approaches to camera likenesses, whether made for amateur or
commercial purposes, ranged from documentary to artistic, from
"materialistic" to "atmospheric," but whatever their under-lying aesthetic
mode, photographic portraits reflected from their origin the conviction
that an individual's personality, intellect, and character can be revealed
through the depiction of facial configuration and expression.
Indeed, from the Renaissance on, portraits have been most esteemed when
they portrayed not only the sitter's physical appearance but inner
character as well. Toward the end of the 18th century, the concept that
pose, gesture, and expression should reveal the inner person became
codified in a number of treatises that exhorted the portraitist to rise
above merely mechanical graphic representation of the human features. The
most significant expression of this idea was contained in the 1789
publication Essays on Physiognomy by Johann Kaspar Lavater, a work that
pro-posed that painters develop the "talent of discovering the interior of
Man by his exterior—of perceiving by certain natural signs, what does not
immediately attract the senses." These ideas still were current when the
early promoters of photography were endeavoring to provide quickly made
and inexpensive likenesses, and they have continued to inform serious
portrait photography on into the 20th century.
28. EDWARD GREENE MALBONE. Eben Farley. 1807.
Miniature on ivory. Worcester Art Museum,
Before photography was invented, however, artists already had devised
methods to respond to the demand for portraits from a new clientele
emerging as a result of the rise of bourgeois societies in England,
France, Holland, and America from the 17th century on. Earlier, the
painted portrait had been largely the privilege of aristocrats and the
very wealthy, but simplifications in terms of what was included in the
painting, and transformations in size and naterials enabled merchants and
farming gentry in the 18th and early 19th centuries to contemplate having
portraits made of themselves and their families. By the mid-i9th century,
in addition to the large, officially sanctioned portraits of royalty and
public figures that still were being commissioned, the miniature, the
silhouette, the physionotrace, the camera lucida drawing, and finally the
photo-graph had arrived to accommodate the needs of new patrons for
likenesses. Of these, the miniature was most like the traditional
large-scale portrait. Although small, it was painted in full color, often
on an ivory surface, and required imaginative skill and a delicate touch
to evoke the character of the sitter. Regarded as precious keepsakes,
miniatures such as the American example shown—a portrait of Eben Farley by
Edward Greene Malbone (pi. no. 28)—usually were enclosed in elegant cases
or inserted in lockets, the manner in which the daguerreotype portrait
would be presented also. The silhouette, on the other hand, might be
considered the poor man's miniature, though it was not always small and
often it appealed to those who could also afford a painted likeness.
Traced from a cast shadow and inked in, or cut freehand from black paper,
which then was mounted on a lighter ground, the silhouette showed only the
profile, which would seem to leave little room for disclosing expression.
Nevertheless, the conviction that profiles were as strong a key to
character as other views impelled Lavater to include an illustration of a
silhouetting device (pi. no. 29) in his work on physiognomy.
Both miniature and silhouette were unique objects— one-of-a-kind
images. For duplicates of the same likeness, whether for personal use or
in conjunction with a printed text, different systems were required—among
them one made possible by a device called the physionotracc. In-vented in
France in 1786 by Gilles Louis Chretien, it consisted of a pointer
attached by a series of levers to a pencil, by means of which the operator
could trace on paper a profile cast onto glass. A pantograph reduced and
transferred the image to a copper plate, which, when engraved and inked,
would permit the printing of an edition.4 From Paris, the physionotracc
was introduced to other cities in Europe and taken to the United States by
a French emigre, Charles Fevret de Saint-Memin, who practiced the technique
in the major New World centers between 1793 and 1844. Numerous figures in
the arts, sciences, and public life, among them Thomas Jefferson (pi. no.
30), sat for the four minutes required to make a portrait tracing by
29. JOHANN KASPAR LAVATER. Silhouette Machine, c. 1780.
Engraving from Essays on Physiognomy. Gemsheim Collection,
Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin
30. Charles Fevret de Saint-Memin. Thomas Jefferson, 1804.
Worcester Art Museum.
That the photograph might provide a more efficient method than either
physionotrace or silhouette to produce faithful likenesses seems obvious
today, but when first announced, neither Daguerre's nor Talbot's process
was capable of being used to make portraits. In 1839, sittings would have
required about 15 minutes of rigid stillness in blazing sunshine owing to
the primitive nature of the lenses used and the insufficient sensitivity
to light of the chemically treated plates and paper. Because the highly
detailed daguerreotype was considered by many the more attractive of the
two processes and, in addition, was unrestricted in many localities,
individuals in Europe and the United States scrambled to find the
improvements that would make commercial daguerreotype portraits possible.
They were aided in their purpose by the general efforts in progress to
improve the process for all kinds of documentation.
Among the means used to accomplish this goal were the reduction of
plate size, the improvement of lenses, the use of mirrors to reverse the
plate's laterally inverted image back to normal, the shortening of
exposure times by the addition of chemical accelerants in the sensitizing
process, and the toning of the plate. Experimentation along these lines
took place wherever daguerreotypes were made—in France, the Germanspeaking
countries, and the United States—even in England where there was less
commercial daguerreotyping activity owing to patent restrictions.
The earliest improvements were made to cameras and lenses. Daguerre's
cumbersome experimental camera was redesigned, and lighter models,
accommodating smaller plates, were manufactured in France by both amateurs
and optical-instrument makers, among them Alphonse Giroux, a relative of
Daguerre's wife who became the first commercial producer of the
daguerreotype camera. These changes made it possible to carry the
equipment to the countryside or abroad and even to make likenesses,
provided the sitter did not object to holding absolutely still for two
minutes. But commercial portraiture could not be contemplated until after
chemical procedures were improved and a faster portrait lens, designed by
Viennese scientist Josef Max Petzval to admit more than 20 times as much
light, was introduced in 1840 by his compatriot Peter Friedrich
The first efforts to make the silver surface more receptive to light
resulted from experiments conducted late in 1840 by English science
lecturer John Frederick Goddard. By fuming the plate in other chemicals in
addition to mercury vapor, he decreased exposure time considerably; plates
sensitized in this manner and used in conjunction with the Petzval lens
required exposures of only five to eilght seconds. Alongside these
developments, a method of gilding the exposed and developed plate in a
solution of gold chloride—the invention of Hippolyte Fizeau in 1840—made
the image more visible and less susceptible to destruction, and prepared
the daguerreotype for its first paying customers.
With the stage set for the business of making portraits by camera, one
might ask where the photographers would be found. As is often true when
older professions seem on the verge of being overtaken by new
technologies, members drift for hurry) from allied fields into the new
one. A large number of miniature and landscape painters, in France
especially, realized during the 1840s that their experiences as craftsmen
might fit them for making camera portraits (and other documents). French
author Charles Baudelaire's contention that the photographic industry had
become "the refuge of failed painters with too little talent" may have
been too harsh, but it is true that unemployed and poorly paid
miniaturists, engravers, and draftsmen turned to portrait photography for
the livelihood it seemed to promise. Watchmakers, opticians, tinkers, and
other artisans also were intrigued by the new technology and the chance it
offered to improve their material well-being.
In England and the United States, portraiture some-times attracted
businessmen who hired artists and others to make exposures and process
plates. Antoine Francois Claudet, a French emigre residing in London, had
been in the sheet glass business before opening a daguerreotype studio.
Eminently successful as a portraitist, Claudet also demonstrated a broad
interest in photography in general— in technical problems, paper
processes, and aesthetic matters. In spite of his belief that the process
was so difficult that "failure was the rule and success the exception,"
the portraits made in his studio are exceptional in their fine
craftsmanship and in the taste with which groups of figures were posed,
arranged, and lighted (pi. no. 31).
Richard Beard, partner in a coal firm who had bought a patent from
Daguerre's agent in 1841 to sell the rights in England, Wales, and the
colonies, started his portrait stu-dio with the idea that the new American
Wolcott camera, in which he held an interest, would insure the financial
prospects of daguerreotype portraiture. In addition to selling licenses to
others, Beard eventually owned three establishments in London, with
daguerreotypists hired to operate the cameras, as seen in the image of
Jabez Hogg (pi. no. 32) making an exposure in Beard's studio (Hogg,
however, is believed to have been an associate rather than a paid
employee). Since this image may be the earliest representation of the
interior of a portrait studio showing a photographer at work, it affords
an opportunity to examine the equipment and facilities in use in the
opening years of portraiture. A tripod-actually a stand with a rotating
plate—supports a simple camera without bellows. It is positioned in front
of a backdrop painted in rococo style, against which female figures
probably were posed. The stiffly upright sitter—in this case a Mr.
Johnson—is clamped into a head-brace, which universally was used to insure
steadiness. He clutches the arm of the chair with one hand and makes a
fist with the other so that his fingers will not flutter. After being
posed, the sitter remains in the same position for longer than just the
time it takes to make an exposure, because the operator must first obtain
the sensitized plate from the darkroom (or if working alone, prepare it),
remove the focusing glass of the camera, and insert the plate into the
frame before beginning the exposure. Hogg is shown riming the exposure
with a pocket watch by experience while holding the cap he has removed
from the lens, but in the course of regular business this operation was
ordinarily left to lowly helpers. In all, the posing process was ncrve-wracking
and lengthy, and if the sitter wished to have more than one portrait made
the operator had to repeat the entire procedure, unless two cameras were
in use simultaneously—a rare occurrence except in the most fashionable
studios. No wonder so many of the sitters in daguerreotype portraits seem
inordinately solemn and unbending. Following the exposure, the plate, with
no image yet visible, would have been removed from the camera and taken to
the darkroom to develop by naming in mercury vapor. By 1842/43, when this
image was made, darkroom is believed to have been an associate rather than
a paid employee.
31. ANTOINE FRANCOIS CLAUDET. The Geography Lesson, c. 1850.
Gernsheim Collection, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas,
32.Unknown PHOTOGRAPHER. Jabez Hogg Making a Portrait in Richard
Beard's Studio, 1843.
Daguerreotype. Collection Bokelberg, Hamburg.
Since this image may be the earliest representation of the interior of
a portrait studio showing a photographer at work, it affords an
opportunity to examine the equipment and facilities in use in the opening
years of portraiture. A tripod—actually a stand with a rotating
plate—supports a simple camera without bellows. It is positioned in front
of a backdrop painted in rococo style, against which female figures
probably were posed. The stiffly upright sitter—in this case a Mr.
Johnson7—is clamped into a head-brace, which universally was used to
insure steadiness. He clutches the arm of the chair with one hand and
makes a fist with the other so that his fingers will not flutter. After
being posed, the sitter remains in the same position for longer than just
the time it takes to make an exposure, because the operator must first
obtain the sensitized plate from the darkroom (or if working alone,
prepare it), remove the focusing glass of the camera, and insert the plate
into the frame before beginning the exposure. Hogg is shown timing the
exposure with a pocket watch by experience while holding the cap he has
removed from the lens, but in the course of regular business this
operation was ordinarily left to lowly helpers. In all, the posing process
was nerve-wracking and lengthy, and if the sitter wished to have more than
one portrait made the operator had to repeat the entire procedure, unless
two cameras were in use simultaneously—a rare occurrence except in the
most fashionable studios. No wonder so many of the sitters in
daguerreotype portraits seem inordinately solemn and unbending. Following
the exposure, the plate, with no image yet visible, would have been
removed from the camera and taken to the darkroom to develop by fuming in
mercury vapor. By 1842/43, when this image was made, darkroom operations
already were performed under red safelight, an invention Claudct devised
to facilitate development. The plate then would have been fixed in hypo
and washed in chloride of gold. Because the daguerreotype's principal
drawback was thought to be its "ghastly appearance... like a person seen
by moonlight, or reflected in water," the portrait would have been
hand-colored by a method Beard patented in 1842, but such coloring was
practiced almost universally in all the better studios. Although gold
toning had made the daguerreotype less susceptible to oxidation, its
delicate pigmented surface required protection and was sheathed in a metal
mat, covered with glass, and enclosed in a case (pi. no. 33), lending the
final assemblage the appearance of the more expensive painted miniatures.
Daguerreotype portraits were made in a variety of sizes, all derived from
the standard "whole plate," which measured 61/2 x 81/2 inches. The most
common portrait sizes were "quarter plate," 31/4 x 41/4 inches—the size of
the Hogg image—and "sixth plate," 23/4 x 31/4 inches.
33. Daguerreotype case, frame, and matte.
International Museum of Photography at George
Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y.
Unfortunately, the interior shown in the Hogg portrait does not reveal
the method of lighting the subject, for illumination was a most important
factor in the success of the portrait. Early studios usually were situated
on the roofs of buildings where sunlight was unobstructed. On clear days,
exposures might be made out-of-doors, al-though not ordinarily in direct
sunlight because of the strongly cast shadows, while interior rooms
somewhat resembled greenhouses with banks of windows, adjustable shades,
and, occasionally, arrangements of blue glass to soften the light and keep
the sitter from squinting in the glare.
With the introduction of the Petzval portrait lens and the knowledge of
the accelerating action of a combination of chemicals in sensitizing the
plate, portrait dagucrrcotyping began to expand throughout Europe. Its
popularity in France was immediate. In 1847 some thousand portraits were
exhibited in Paris alone, and dagucrrcorypists were active in many
provincial cities as well. A hand-tinted daguerreotype of a family group,
made in Paris in the 1850s, is typical of the general level and style of
commercial portraiture in that it conveys the manner in which the figures
were disposed in the space and the handling of lighting directed to focus
the eye both on the familial relationship and on material facts (pi. no.
In the German-speaking cities of Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden, Vienna, and
Bern, the volume of daguerreotype portraiture was smaller than that
produced in France but seems otherwise comparable in style and
craftsmanship. Although artists who took up daguerrcotyping occasionally
were denounced as "paintsputterers" who had turned themselves into
artistic geniuses with the help of sunČlight,9 they produced skillfully
realized and authoritative images, among them Alexander von Humboldt (pi.
no. 35) by Hermann Gunther Biow and Mother Albers (pi. no. 36) by Carl
Ferdinand Stelzncr, a miniature painter of repute who for a brief period
was associated with Biow in a Hamburg daguerreotype studio. Another
example, an 1845 portrait of three young girls (pi. no. 37) by Berlin
dagucrreotypist Gustav Oehme, displays a feeling for grace and symmetry in
the grouping of the figures and an unusual sense of presence in the direct
level gaze of the three youngsters. The Dresden photographer Hermann Krone
was acclaimed not only for excellent portrait daguerreotypes but for his
topographical views, nude studies, and still lifes (see Chapters 3 and 5);
like a number of serious daguerreotypists of this era, he was interested
in the widest application of the medium and in its potential for both art
The taking of likenesses by daguerreotype spread more slowly through
the rest of Europe during the 1840s and '50s. Investigations have turned
up a greater amount of activity than once was thought to exist, but, other
than in the larger cities, portrait work in Central Europe was done mainly
by itinerants. However, much of that was lost in the nationalistic and
revolutionary turmoils of the 19th century. In a number of countries, the
daguerreotype and, later, photography on paper and glass came to be
considered apt tools for ethnic self-realization. One example entitled A
Magyar Fold es Nepei (The Land of Hungary and Its People), published in
1846/47, was illustrated with lithographs based on daguerreotypes thought
to have been made by Janos Varsanyi, and included ethnographic portraits
as well as the expected images of landscape and monuments.
Farther east, the progress of both daguerreotype and calotype in France
and England was monitored in Russia by the Petersburg Academy of Sciences,
and in 1840 Aleksei Grevkov, who tried to work with the less costly metals
of copper and brass for the sensitized plate, opened the first
daguerreotype studio in Moscow. Sergei Levitskii, who started a portrait
studio in Petersburg in 1849 following a period of practice in Italy and
study in Paris, experimented with the electroplating of daguerreotypes and
with calotype procedures before turning to collodion photography; he
sought also to combine electric and natural light in order to shorten the
lengthy exposure times made necessary by the long Russian winters. In
general, however, the profes-sion of portrait photography in all of these
localities, whether practiced for commercial or artistic purposes, was not
able to expand until about 40 years after its debut, an understandable
state of affairs when one realizes that in the 1840s in Belgrade, for
instance, a daguerreotype cost as much as a month of daily dinners in the
34. D. F. MILLET. Couple and Child, 1854-59. Daguerreotype.
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.
35. HERMANN GUNTHER BIOW. Alexander von Humboldt, Berlin, 1847.
Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg.
36. CARL FERDINAND STELZNER. Mother Albers, The Family Vegetable Woman,
Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg; Staatliche Landesbildstelle,
37. GUSTAV OEHME. Three Young Girls, c. 184s.
Collection Bokelberg, Hamburg.
Daguerreotype Portraiture in America
Daguerreotype portraiture was made to order for the United States,
where it reached a pinnacle of success during the 20 years that followed
its introduction into the country. In the conjunction of uncanny detail,
artless yet intense expression, and naive pose, Americans recognized a
mirror of the national ethos that esteemed unvarnished truth and
distrusted elegance and ostentation. The power of "heaven's broad and
simple sunshine" to bring out "the secret character with a truth that no
painter would ever venture upon," which Nathaniel Hawthorne praised in The
House of the Seven Gables, helped propel the silver camera likeness into
an instrument through which the nation might recognize its best
instincts. Furthermore, the cohesive bodies of work produced to distill
this message were the products of commercial studios, a fact that
accorded with the native respect for entrepreneurial initiative.
Attempts to make daguerreotype portraits preoccupied Americans from the
start. Shortly after instruction manuals arrived from England in
September, 1839, Samuel F. B. Morse, his colleague John William Draper,
Professor of Chemistry at New York University, Henry Fitz in Boston, and
Robert Cornelius in Philadelphia managed to overcome the estimated 10-20
minute exposure time and produce likenesses—some with eyes closed against
the glaring sunlight—by reducing the size of the plate and whitening the
sitter's face. The exposure time for Draper's well-known 1840 portrait of
his sister, Dorothy Catherine (pl.. no. 38) (sent by the chemist to John
Herschel as a token of esteem for the English scientist's contributions to
photography), was 65 seconds, still too long for commercial portraiture,
and an image produced around the same time by Henry Fitz, Jr., a telescope
maker, showed the face with eyes closed on a plate the size of a large
Europeans had to wait until 1841 to sit before the studio daguerreotype
camera, but in America the first commercial enterprises were opened in New
York City by Alexander S. Wolcott and John Johnson and in Philadelphia by
Cornelius in the spring of 1840. Working with Fitz, Wolcott and Johnson
patented a camera of their own design (mentioned previously in connection
with Beard) and installed an ingenious plate glass mirror arrangement in
their studio window that increased illumination on the sitter, softening
the glare with a baffle of glass bottles filled with a blue liquid.
Although their mirror camera was eventually discarded, improvements in
daguerreotype technology in the United States were rapid. The finest
lenses and plates continued to be imported, but, during the 1840s optical
systems and cameras as well as plates and chemicals also were manufactured
locally, resulting in less expensive products and in the setting-up of
photographic supply houses, the forerunners of the giant companies of
today. Techniques for harnessing the buffing and polishing machinery to
steam power and for creating a rational assembly line—the so-called German
system—in manufacturing and studio processing procedures soon followed.
The absolute frontality in Draper's portrait of Catherlishmints in 14
cities, is typical of this style. As in the Draper image, the portrait of
Mrs. Francis Luqueer (pi. no. 39), taken in one of the Plumbe studios,
fills the space frontally and centrally, with no attempt at artistic pose,
dramatic lighting, or grandiloquent props such as the drapery swags and
statuary found in European daguerreotype portraits. This style must have
appealed to Americans in part because of its similarity to the solemn
portraits by native limners, exemplified in the likeness of Mrs. John
Vincent Storm (pi. no. 40) by Ammi Phillips, made just a few years
earlier. Nor was the sober approach limited to ordinary folk; the same
directness and lack of artifice is seen in an 1847 daguerreotype, by an
unknown maker, of the future abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass (pi.
no. 41) . In this work, the absence of artistic pretension is modine, the
result of his scientific intent, is nevertheless emblematic of the
approach taken by a great many early daguerreotypists in America. The work
of John Plumbe, an enterprising businessman out to make a success of
selling equipment, supplies, and lessons as well as inexpensive
likenesses, who opened a studio in Boston in 1841 and by the mid-'40s was
the owner of a chain of portrait establishmints in 14 cities, is typical
of this style. As in the Draper image, the portrait of Mrs. Francis
Luqueer (pi. no. 39), taken in one of the Plumbe studios, fills the space
frontally and centrally, with no attempt at artistic pose, dramatic
lighting, or grandiloquent props such as the drapery swags and statuary
found in European daguerreotype portraits. This style must have appealed
to Americans in part because of its similarity to the solemn portraits by
native limners, exemplified in the likeness of Mrs. John Vincent Storm
(pi. no. 40) by Ammi Phillips, made just a few years earlier. Nor was the
sober approach limited to ordinary folk; the same directness and lack of
artifice is seen in an 1847 daguerreotype, by an unknown maker, of the
future abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass (pi. no. 41) . In this work,
the absence of artistic pretension is moderated by the sense of powerful
psychological projection, by the suggestion of a distinctive presence.
38. JOHN WILLIAM DRAPER. Dorothy Catherine Draper, 1840.
Original ruined. Collotype from a daguerreotype,
Chemical Museum, Columbia University, New York.
39. JOHN PLUMBE. Mrs. Francis Luqueer, n.d.
New-York Historical Society, New York.
40. AMMI PHILLIPS. Mrs. John Vincent Storm, c. 1835-40.
Oil on canvas. Brooklyn Museum; gift of Mrs. Waido Hutchu
41. UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER. Frederick Douglass, 1847.
Collection William Rubcl; National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian
Institution, Washington, DC.
The successes of the portrait establishments in New York and Washington
started by Mathew Brady (see Profile, Chapter 4) arc now legendary (pi.
no. 42). After taking lessons in the daguerreotype process from Morse,
this former manufacturer of cases for jewelry and daguerreotypes opened
his first "Dagucrrcan Miniature Gallery" on lower Broadway in 1844. His
stated aim, ""to vindicate true art" by producing better portraits at
higher prices than the numerous competitors who were to be found in the
same part of the city, was realized in part as a result of the patronage
of Tammany Hall politicians and entertainment entrepreneur P. T. Barnum,
and in part because Brady seems to have recognized the value of public
relations. By sending portraits of celebrities and views of the gallery
interior to the newly launched picture journals, Frank Leslie's and
Harper's Weekly, for translation into wood-engraved illustrations (pi. no.
43), he was able to focus attention on his own enterprise and on the role
the daguerreotype might play in urban communication despite the fact that
it was a one-of-a kind image.
This limitation had prompted the enterprising Plumbe to circumvent the
unduplicatable nature of the daguerreo-type by issuing in 1846 a series of
engravings entitled The National Plumbeotype Gallery, based on his camera
portraits of national figures. Brady followed with his Gallery
oflllustriouts Americans. Issued in 1850, it comprised 12 lithographs by
Francois D'Avignon based on Brady studio daguerreotypes of famous
Americans, among them the artist John James Audubon (pi. no. 44). In both
publications, the implicit assumption that the character of an
individual's contribution to public life can be seen in physical features
and stance is testament to the continuing vigor of Lavater's ideas about
An even stronger belief in the conjunction of appearance and moral
character is evident in the fine daguerreotype portraiture that issued
from the Boston studio of Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Hawes. In
business for almost 20 years—1843 to 1862—during the ascendancy of
transcendentalist thought in that city, the partners approached
portraiture with a profound respect for both spirit and fact. Convinced
that "nature is not at all to be represented as it is, but as it ought to
be and might possibly have been," they sought to capture "the best
possible character and finest expression'"3 of which their sitters were
capable without departing from the truth. South-worth and Hawes made more
than 1,500 likenesses, a great many of which exhibit the exceptional
authority apparent in an 1856 image of Charles Sumner (pi. no. 45) . A
medallion portrait of an unknown sitter (pi. no. 46), made with a sliding
plateholder patented by Southworth in 1855, is unusually fine. The varied
positions of the head, the split dark and light backgrounds, and the
arrangement of ovals to suggest a lunar cycle convey the sense that camera
images can ensnare time as well as depict physical substances.
42. FRANCOIS D'AVIGNON. Portrait of Mathew Brady from The
Photographic Art Journal, Vol. I. 1851.
Lithograph. Print Collection, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and
43 A. BERGHAUS. M. B. Brady's New Photographic Gallery, Corner
of Broadway and Tenth Street,
New York from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Jan. 5, 1861.
Engraving. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
44. FRANCOIS D'AVIGNON. John James Audubon from Gallery of
Illustrious Americans, 1850.
Lithograph after a photograph by Brady. Print Collection,
New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.
45. ALBERT SANDS SOUTHWORTH and JOSIAH JOHNSON HAWES. Charles Sumner,
Daguerreotype. Bostonian Society, Boston.
46. ALBERT SANDS SOUTHWORTH and JOSIAH JOHNSON HAWES. Unknown Lady,
Medallion daguerreotype. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;
gift of Edward Southworth Hawes in Memory of his Father, Josiah Johnson
It would be a mistake to think that most American daguerreotype
portraiture attained the level of the work produced by Southworth and
Hawes or even Brady. Most likenesses were simply records, whether made in
fashionable studios or by small-town or itinerant daguerreotypists who
charged little enough—from 25 cents to one dollar— to enable a broad
sector of the populace to afford a portrait. On occasion, such images are
appealing because of unusual pose or piquant expression or because of
boldness and singular subject matter, as in a portrait of the Sauk chief
Keokuk (pi. no. 47) made by Thomas Easterly, working in Missouri in 1847.
On the whole, however, daguerreotype likenesses were remarkably similar to
each other in their unrelieved straightforwardness and the solemn, almost
frozen demeanor of the sitters. As a writer for Bailou's Pictorial
Drawing-Room Companion of 1855 observed of a daguerreotype display: "If
you have seen one of these cases you have seen them all. There is the
militia officer in full regimentals . . . there is the family group,
frozen into wax statuary attitudes and looking ... as if ... assembled for
a funeral... the fast young man, taken with his hat on and a cigar in his
mouth; the belle of the locality with a vast quantity of plaited hair and
plated jewelry ... the best baby... the intellectual... and the young
poet.... There is something interesting in the very worst of these
daguerreotypes because there must be something of nature in all of them."
Of course, the unrelieved seriousness of expression in daguerreotype
portraiture was in part the result of the lengthy process of arranging the
sitter, head in clamp and hand firmly anchored, and then making the
exposure, but spontaneity not only was technically difficult to achieve,
it also was considered inappropriate to the ceremonial nature of an
undertaking that for most sitters required proper deportment and correct
attire. Even more joyless were the images of the dead (pi. no. 48) made as
keepsakes for bereaved families for whom they possessed "the sublime power
to transmit the almost living image of... loved ones." Nevertheless, this
"Phantom concourse... mute as a grave,"16 evoked a singular response in
the United States. As Richard Rudisill has pointed out in a provocative
study, "the daguerreotypists employed their mirror images for the
definition and recording of their time and their society.... They
confronted Americans with themselves and sought to help them recognize
their own significance."
In the rest of the Americas, both north and south, portraiture followed
a course similar to that in eastern Europe, with the exception that the
first portraits in Canada and Latin America often were made by itinerants
from the United States and Europe seeking a lucrative employment. By the
1850s permanent studios had been established in the major cities of Canada
and South America, where despite the provincial character of urban life in
those regions, both metal and paper portraits were seen as symbols of
economic well-being and national self-realization.
Among the itinerant photographers traveling to Canada, mention is made
of a female daguerreotypist who spent a month making likenesses in
Montreal in 1841. The names of other women crop up in notices and reports
on photography's early years to suggest that in spite of the medium's
association with chemicals and smelly manipulations, it was not in itself
regarded as an unsuitable pastime for women. Anna Atkins, Julia Margaret
Cameron, Genevieve Elizabeth Disderi, Lady Clementina Hawarden, Mrs. John
Dillwyn Llewelyn, and Constance Talbot in Europe and Mary Ann Meade in the
United States are only the best known of the women drawn to photography
either in association with other members of the family or on their own.
Women also were active behind the scenes in daguerreotype and paper
printing establishments where they worked on assembly lines; later they
were employed in firms that produced and processed photographic materials,
among them those owned by George Eastman and the Lumiere brothers.
47. THOMAS EASTERLY. Keokuk, Sauk Chief, 1847. Modern gelatin
silver print from a copy
negative of the original daguerreotype in the collection of the Missouri
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington,
48. UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER (American). Dead Child, c. 1850.
Collection Richard Rudisill, Santa Fe, N.M.
Portraits on Paper: The Calotype
Calotype portraiture never achieved the commercial popularity of the
daguerreotype. Talbot's first successes in portraying the human face
occurred in October, 1840, when he made a number of close-ups of his wife
Constance, among them a three-quarter view of exceptional vitality
requiring a 30 second exposure (pi. no. 50). Convinced that paper
portraiture was as commercially feasible as the daguerreotype, Talbot
entered into an arrangement with a painter of miniatures, Henry Collen, to
make calotype likenesses, but the resulting portraits, including one of
Queen Victoria and the Princess Royal (pi. no. 49), often were so
indistinct that considerable retouching—at which Collen excelled—was
necessary. Since neither Collen nor Talbot's next partner in portraiture,
Claudet, were able to convince the public that the duplicatable paper
image with its broad chiaroscuro style was preferable to the fine detail
of the daguerreotype, commercial paper portraiture in England languished
until the era of the glass negative.
The situation was different in Scotland, where, as noted in Chapter I,
Talbot's associate Sir David Brewster was instrumental in introducing the
calotype to David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson (see Profile). In an
endeavor to record the 400 or so likenesses to be included in a painting
that Hill decided to make in 1843 commemorating the separation of the
Church of Scotland from the Church of England, the two became so caught up
in photography that they also produced hundreds of commanding portraits of
individuals who had no relationship to the religious issues that were the
subject of the painting. Aware that the power of the calotype lay in the
fact that it looked like the "imperfect work of man ...and not the perfect
work of God," Hill and Adamson used the rough texture of the paper
negative to create images with broad chiaroscuro effects that were likened
by contemporaries to the paintings of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Rembrandt.
Among the sitters, who posed for one to two minutes cither in an
out-of-doors studio in Edinburgh, with a minimum of furnishings arranged
to simulate an interior, or on location, were artists, intellectuals, the
upper-class gentry of Scotland, and working fisherfolk in the nearby town
of Newhaven. Simplicity of pose and dramatic yet untheatrical lighting
emphasize the solid strength of the sitter James Linton (pi. no. 51), a
working fisherman. On the other hand, the genteel character of well-bred
Victorian women is brought out in the poses, softer lighting, and
gracefully intertwined arrangement of the three figures in The Misses
Binny and Miss Monro (pi. no. 52). Such Hill and Adamson images recall the
idealized depictions of women in paintings by Daniel McClise and Alfred
Chalons, popularized in the publication Book of Beauty, but as photographs
they gain an added dimension because the camera reveals a degree of
particularity entirely lacking in the paintings.
In artistic and literary circles in Britain and France, these
photographs were considered the paradigm of portrait photography in that
they made use of traditional artist concepts regarding arrangement and
employed arm spheric effects to reveal character. During the 1850s group
that included William Collie in the British Isles and Louis Desire
Blanquart-Evrard, Charles Hugo, Gustave Le Gray, Charles Negre, and Victor
Regnault on the Continent followed a similar path, using themselves,
members of their families, and friends to make calotype portraits that
emphasize light and tonal masses and suppress fussy detail.
49. HENRY COLLEN. Queen Victoria with Her Daughter, Victoria,
Princess Royal, 1844-45.
Calotype. Royal Library', Windsor Castle.
Reproduced by Gracious Permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
50. WILLIAM HENRY FOX TALBOT. "C'S Portrait (Constance Talbot), Oct.
Calotype. Royal Photographic Society, Bath, England.
51. DAVID OCTAVIUS HILL and ROBERT ADAMSON. Redding the Line
(Portrait of James Linton), c. 1846. Calotype. Scottish National Portrait
52. DAVID OCTAVIUS HILL and ROBERT ADAMSON. The Misses Binny and Miss
Monro, c. 1845.
Calotype. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Harris Brisbane Dick Fund,