Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre
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Louis Jacques Mande-Daguerre (1789-1851) met the quest for the technology to record an image. The invention of the daguerreotype brought the possibility of preserving a period, the memory of a place, or the faces of a family.
Louis Jacques Mande-Daguerre, artist and inventor, was born November 18, 1789 in Cormeilles-en-France. As a young man it became apparent that Daguerre’s strength was in the field of art. At sixteen he became an apprentice to the successful scene painter Degotti. Daguerre became an acceptable painter, painting backdrops for theatrical stage plays and operas.
In 1822 Daguerre together with Charles Bourton, also a painter, created a theater scene they named a “diorama”. Several layers of fabric were painted then layered with real objects and illuminated to approximate the time of day. The diorama was very popular in Paris; dioramas were created for several countries in Europe and America. Daguerre was familiar with the camera obscura as a painting aid and had improved the lenses for use during production of the diorama.
Nicephore Niepce and Daguerre met and became partners in 1829; Niepce needed Daguerre’s camera obscura and Daguerre was interested in the heliographic process that Niepce had developed. Daguerre was an artist, not a chemist, but he was befriended by a leading French chemist, J. Dumas, who offered funds, a laboratory and advice. Unfortunately Niepce died in 1833 leaving his share of the partnership to his son Isidore.
Two years later Daguerre produced the first daguerreotype. Being placed over a container of iodine particles thus forming a silver iodide on the surface sensitized a silver plated sheet of copper. The plate was then exposed in a camera; the silver iodide was reduced to silver in proportion to the density. The exposed plate was then placed over a container of warm mercury; the fumes formed an amalgam with the silver producing an image. The plate was washed with a saline solution to prevent further exposure. Daguerre allowed that his iodized silver plate would remain in his partnership but it would be called a “daguerreotype”, as it was completely Daguerre’s invention. The first successful daguerreotype, a still life, was produced in 1837. The first human image was recorded on a daguerreotype in 1839.
The same year the French Government accepted the daguerreotype process as an acquisition to be shared with the public. Daguerre was given a life long pension of 6000 francs a year. Isidore Niepce received 4000 francs a year for life.
Samuel F. B. Morse met with Daguerre to share his telegraph and to view the daguerreotype. Morse was so impressed he brought the process to America where it was accepted with great enthusiasm.
Daguerre continued to produce the camera he had conceived with the aid of his brother-in-law, Alphonse Giroux and Chevaliers’ lenses.
By Vi Whitmire for The International Photography Hall of Fame