Image of America: Early Photography, 1839-1900; a Catalog

Image of America: Early Photography, 1839-1900; a Catalog

Image of America: Early Photography, 1839-1900; a Catalog

Image of America: Early Photography, 1839-1900; a Catalog

Excerpt

This photographic exhibition was arranged in conjunction with the International Exposition of Photography held in Washington on March 22-31, 1957. In this catalog are listed entries describing what was exhibited, together with a few facts about the significance of the items.

From its beginnings over 100 years ago, photography has provided a medium of visual communication that has been probably as important in its impact as the invention of printing from movable type. While the camera obscura had long been known in principle by scholars, the daguerreotype technique of taking pictures, by actually fixing the images on sensitized plates, opened the door to the process of photography. After beholding the early results, Lewis Gaylord Clark wrote in the New York magazine, The Knickerbocker:

"We have seen the views taken in Paris by the 'Daguerreotype' and have no hesitation in avowing that they are the most remarkable objects of curiosity and admiration, in the arts, that we ever beheld. Their exquisite perfection almost transcends the bounds of sober belief. Let us endeavor to convey to the reader an impression of their character. Let him suppose himself standing in the middle of Broadway, with a looking glass held perpendicularly in his hand, in which is reflected the street, with all that there is, for two or three miles, taking in the haziest distance. Then let him take the glass into the house, and find the impression of the entire view, in the softest light and shade vividly retained upon its surface."

One of the main disadvantages of the daguerreotype process was that the exposures were long; consequently any movement of people left the effect in the picture of fleeting ghosts. Because of this limitation, street scenes were usually photographed without people. Another shortcoming of the daguerreotype was that each picture was unique and could not be duplicated except by being rephotographed. With such limiting factors, it is remarkable that any pictures have survived from that early period. The prints from daguerreotypes and glass plates in this exhibition were made from the originals, reproducing them as they appear with scratches and defects, including cracks in the plates.

The selection of pictures in the exhibition was made on the basis of the importance of subject in depicting various aspects of American history, life, and progress, rather than on technical excellence. The arrangement is according to subject categories and is roughly chronological. An extensive search was made through thousands of . . .

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