The Mirror with a Memory


The daguerreotype, "the mirror with a memory."
- Sir Oliver Wendell Holmes

Portrait of a Nurse and Child, c. 1850.











Properties of the daguerreotype:
  • Mirror view of the original scene
  • Shiny, mirror-like surface
  • Very delicate, one-of-a-kind direct positive image
Construction of a daguerreotype: hinged, velvet-lined case, plate, frame, matte, and glass.











Daguerreotype drawbacks:

  • Long exposure time
  • Beyond the average person's means
  • Cameras were large and cumbersome
Giroux Daguerreotype Camera











By the end of 1840 three major improvements made:

Robert Cornelius

  • Cameras manufactured with better quality lens
  • More light-sensitive plates developed
  • Enriched tones of daguerreotype image with gilding
Robert Cornelius, Self-Portrait, 1839.
First daguerreotype produced in U.S.?











John Draper, Miss Dorothy Catherine Draper,
c. 1840. Daguerreotype.
Southworth and Hawes, Woman in Black, c. 1850. Daguerreotype.











Daguerreotype Mania


daguerreotype mania

First commercial daguerreotype studios open in New York and Paris
First studios in London
200 studios in New York and 400 in Paris
284 studios in London
Theodore Maurisset, Fantasies: La Daguerreotypemanie, 1839.











Dagnan-Bouveret, Wedding at the Photographer's, 1879.











Jenny Lind Headrest, 1851.











William Henry Fox Talbot
1800 - 1877


William Henry Fox Talbot

John Moffat, Portrait of William Henry Fox Talbot, 1866.











Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey

William Henry Fox Talbot, Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey, 1835.
Photogenic drawing.

Enhanced view of Talbot's window











Talbot produced the first successful
negative on paper in 1835
  • Soaked paper in a solution of sodium chloride, then a solution of silver nitrate
  • Repeated process several times to create a dense concentration of chemicals
  • Exposed wet sheet of iodized paper to light  
    (cutting exposure time from 1 hour to 10 minutes)
  • Image fixed with either potassium iodide or sodium chloride
William Henry Fox Talbot, 1837,
Photogenic Drawing.
In the following years, Talbot discovered that an invisible, "latent image" could be developed with gallic acid
Began coating paper with wax to make it more translucent
Negative was contact printed onto another sheet of sesnsitized paper























Direct Positive Print
the calotype established a negative/ positive printmaking system
1. Negative image produced by exposing light-sensitive paper
2. Positive image produced by contact printing onto another piece of paper
Negative Image
Positive Image
William Henry Fox Talbot, Oak Tree in Winter at Lacock Abbey, Early 1840s.
Calotype negative and Salted Paper Print positive.











William Henry Fox Talbot, Articles of China, 1844.
Salted Paper Print made from Calotype negative.










Southworth and Hawes, Rollin Heber Neal, c. 1850. Daguerreotype.
William Henry Fox Talbot, The Ladder, 1844.
Salted paper print from Calotype negative.


Daguerreotyp vs. Calotype
Highly detailed
Creates contrast and mass
One step
Two step
Exposure time
Few seconds
Few minutes
Produced one-of-a-kind image
Produced infinite number of copies
Somewhat expensive if done at high quality studio
Relatively inexpensive
Experienced businessman
Scientist and intellectual











The Pencil of Nature

The Pencil of Nature = first book to include photographic images
  • In order to encourage the use of the calotype process and his former valet's photo printing establishment, Talbot sold subscriptions to The Pencil of Nature
  • Printed in six parts with 24 salted paper prints from paper negatives
  • Today, approximately forty complete or substantially complete copies survive
William Henry Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, 1844 - 1846.











Talbot's valet's printing operation, c. 1845.











The Open Door

William Fox Talbot, The Open Door, 1843. Salted paper print from calotype negative.











picturesque = suggesting a painted scene, quaint, charming and favoring the emotional experience

sublime = lofty, grand or exalted in thought, expression or manner; of outstanding spiritual, intellectual or moral worth; tending to inspire awe
William Henry Fox Talbot, The Game Keeper, c. 1843.











William Henry Fox Talbot, Cloisters of Lacock Abbey, c. 1843.











The Vampire

Charles Negre, The Vampire, 1853. Salted paper print.











Salted paper:

Soaked in salt concentration
Coated on one side with silver nitrate
Contact printed with negative image
William Henry Fox Talbot, Talbot at Laycock Abbey, Salt print from a calotype negative, early 1840s.








Wet-Collodion Process

1848 Frederick Scott Archer exposes iodized collodion while it is wet, resulting in a great improvement of the calotype process
collodion (pyroxylin) = a mixture of cellulose nitrates that is less explosive than guncotton, soluble in a mixture of organic solvents, and used especially in making plastics, coatings such as lacquers, as a coating for wonds or for photographic films











Sally Mann, Last Light, 1989.