First pho­to­graphic im­ages a com­pli­cated process

Whanganui Chronicle - - News - Sandi Black Sandi Black is the ar­chiv­ist at Whanganui Re­gional Mu­seum.

In the 21st cen­tury, most of us have mo­bile phones, and most of those phones come equipped with a pretty good cam­era.

We can take a pho­to­graph, add a fil­ter, crop and edit, then share it with the world within sec­onds. Pho­tog­ra­phy has not al­ways been so easy and read­ily avail­able.

After cen­turies of painstak­ing carv­ing and paint­ing to cap­ture a like­ness, in 1822, French in­ven­tor Joseph Nice´ phore Nie´ pce was the first per­son to make a me­chan­i­cal im­age. He used a process called photo etch­ing to cre­ate a per­ma­nent im­age on a metal plate, and was then able to use the plate to cre­ate copies of the im­age etched on to it.

He worked with LouisJac­ques-Mande´ Da­guerre to fur­ther the process be­fore pass­ing away in 1833, but Da­guerre con­tin­ued with the work. He fi­nalised the process in 1837. In 1838 he took the first pho­to­graph of a per­son, by ac­ci­dent, while he was at­tempt­ing to make a da­guerreo­type of a street scene in Paris.

Mov­ing pedes­tri­ans and car­riages are too blurry to see, but one man who was hav­ing his boots cleaned on the street cor­ner, stayed still long enough to be cap­tured.

In ex­change for a pen­sion from the gov­ern­ment he al­lowed France to present his method as a gift to the world. Daguerreotypes were very time-con­sum­ing and in­tri­cate to make.

A plate of cop­per was coated with sil­ver and pol­ished to a mir­ror-shine, then ex­posed to halo­gen fumes to cre­ate a layer of light sen­si­tive sil­ver halide which would bear the im­age. Ini­tially, ex­po­sure could take up to 70 min­utes, but was re­fined down to only a few sec­onds on a bright day.

The la­tent im­age was re­vealed by ex­pos­ing the plate to mer­cury fumes.

Although known to be dan­ger­ous, very lit­tle pro­tec­tion was taken when han­dling the mer­cury and there were re­ports of inat­ten­tive da­guerreo­typ­ists de­vel­op­ing mer­cury poi­son­ing from it.

The plate was toned with gold chlo­ride be­fore be­ing rinsed and dried, and the da­guerreo­typ­ist could add colour washes to cloth­ing and skin or gold tints to jew­ellery. The plate was then sealed be­hind a layer of glass and bound in a brass mat, be­fore be­ing housed in a wooden case cov­ered with leather and padded with vel­vet or satin.

The re­sult­ing im­age could be seen as a pos­i­tive or a neg­a­tive, and had a high-shine fin­ish, made eas­ier to view by the pad­ding in the case. It was a sin­gle-use im­age and it was not pos­si­ble to make copies without cre­at­ing a whole new da­guerreo­type. It was also quite ex­pen­sive.

In 1882, an ad­ver­tise­ment for the process in the news­pa­per,

stated the da­guerreo­typ­ist could take a photo in only five sec­onds; he charged be­tween 10 shillings and two guineas, equiv­a­lent to $60-$260 to­day.

Although it was ex­pen­sive, the da­guerreo­type was the first pub­licly avail­able pho­to­graphic process.

Its peak pop­u­lar­ity was from the early 1840s to the mid-1860s. Whanganui Re­gional Mu­seum holds six in the col­lec­tion, only one of which is named. This is Mrs J. Al­li­son, a rel­a­tive of Dr James Al­li­son, who ar­rived in Whanganui from Glas­gow in 1840.

Da­guerreo­type of Mrs or Miss J. Al­li­son, taken in Glas­gow around 1839. She is thought to be the mother or sis­ter of Dr James Al­li­son, who em­i­grated to Whanganui in 1840. Whanganui Re­gional Mu­seum Col­lec­tion ref­er­ence: 1975.43.19

Da­guerreo­type of an uniden­ti­fied child in a tar­tan dress. Whanganui Re­gional Mu­seum Col­lec­tion ref­er­ence: 1960.145.2

Da­guerreo­type of an uniden­ti­fied man. Whanganui Re­gional Mu­seum Col­lec­tion ref­er­ence: 1802.8612

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