Louis Daguerre
French, 1787-1851

French Romantic painter and physicist Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre revolutionized photography by inventing the first photographic process, known as the daguerreotype, presented to the public in 1839. Exposed in a camera obscura and developed in mercury vapors, each daguerreotype was a highly polished, silvered copper plate containing a unique image that, when viewed in proper light, conveyed an image in extraordinary detail, almost to three-dimensional effect. Although Nicéphore Niépce is credited with producing the first permanent photograph (a heliograph) in 1826/27, Daguerre’s new method vastly improved upon the heliograph’s poor image quality and reduced the eight-hour exposure time to 30 minutes. His earliest plates were still lifes of plaster casts of antique sculpture, as in L’Atelier de l’artiste (1837) and his views of Paris and arrangements of shells and fossils. Although …

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