Baby pictures, graduation pictures, wedding photos, senior portraits, party snapshots, and even cellphone “selfies” all share a common theme – a desire to capture moments that hold personal significance, generally of loved ones, family, friends, and self. This need to record and hold dear memories is not a new one; throughout history, we have attempted to record ourselves and others by the best means available, via cave drawings, hieroglyphics, paintings, sculpture, and in the past 200 years, through photography. While modern cellphone cameras and prolific social media venues have made portrait making and sharing an almost trivial undertaking today, the easy access to portraits of friends, family, and self we enjoy is the result of years of technical and aesthetic development in the field of photography. Continue reading “A Brief History of Photography: Part 11 – Early Portrait Photography”
Shortly after Louis Daguerre presented the results of his pioneering photographic work to the world in 1839, the daguerreotype appeared to stand alone as a unique technological achievement. It seemed to address the primary concerns of the photographic experimenters of the time; to capture real-world images using a relatively short exposure time; to yield an image of acceptable resolution and aesthetic value; and to create an image demonstrating a fade-free permanence. That the daguerreotype did all this so well, with no legal or patent restrictions on the practitioner, it was no wonder that the process quickly found a near fanatical following throughout the world.
Before the formal unveiling of Daguerre’s achievements in August 1839, word had begun to spread throughout Europe that the Frenchman had succeeded in developing an innovative method of recording camera images. These rumors prompted an English scientist and mathematician, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), to hurriedly present the details of his independently developed process to the Royal Society in January and February 1839. Unaware of each other’s efforts, both Daguerre and Talbot had been simultaneously working to solve the early riddles of photography. While it turned out that each man had taken decidedly different technical approaches to the problem, Talbot had naturally assumed that Daguerre’s method mirrored his own, and he was attempting to establish a claim to priority.