The Daguerreotype








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"A Rural English Still Life" by T.R.Williams   -  1/6 Plate


The daguerreotype process, the first practical form of photography, was made public in August of 1839, but seldom able in its earliest form to produce portraits. This was due to the lengthy exposure time required.

A daguerreotype is made on a sheet of silver-plated copper. The silver surface is polished to a mirror-like brilliance. The silver, which when sensitized with iodine vapor, produces silver iodide. After a long time exposure in the camera, the positive image on the surface is developed with mercury vapor - a process very hazardous to the photographers in former times. Finally the image is fixed with sodium chloride solution.

By 1840, experimenters had succeeded at increasing the sensitivity of the process by using chlorine or bromine fumes in addition to the iodine vapor. The earliest daguerreotypes tend to have bluish or slate grey tones; a brown-toning process called "gilding" came into widespread (but not universal) use late in 1840. Daguerreotypes have exceptionally fragile surfaces and for this reason, they were always furnished behind glass in frames or small folding cases.

Daguerreotype images, most of which were portraits, require viewing from a certain angle, but their permanence was a tremendous achievement in the emergence of photography.





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