Daguerreian Society

In his history, "The Daguerreotype In America", Beaumont Newhall closed 
his essay with a quote from the following text.  For today's DagNews, I 
will give the full passage from this source.  It is indeed a remarkable 
commentary written as the daguerreotype was passing from popular favor.
   I am compelled to offer a disclaimer. It is extremely unfortunate 
that this text makes use of an analogy that is a strong derogatory 
racial slur.  I would certainly not choose to use such an analogy 
today.  The words remain in this reprint, however, because that is how 
the text was originally written. Although times have changed, if we are 
to understand history by studying it, then we must be able to read 
documents as originally written, without any attempt at cleansing. I do 
not reprint this text to offend anyone; rather, I hope that this text 
sheds a sharper light on our cultural past.
   The following text is extracted from "Sunlight Sketches' or the 
Photographic Textbook: A Practical Treatise on Photography" (New York: 
published for the author by H. H. Snelling, 1858) pp. 25-27.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Timing in the Camera."

   By this process when carefully managed, the time required in the 
camera is very short.  With a well arranged light from 5 to 10 seconds 
is sufficient.  Great precaution should be used, not to overtime.  
Remember the author is not advocating the goneby intense process which 
required three minutes time in the camera redeveloping with pyrogalic 
acid, one week and eight days to print from it.  The process herein 
given produces the natural negative, one that will print in three 
minutes and give black for black, and white for white.  It does not run 
into the scotch-snuff order.  The proof is like the beautiful 
daguerreotype, developed and defined in all its parts, and beautiful as 
the light of heaven can make it.
   O, sad fate of the beautiful daguerreotype!  I would to heaven I 
could forget it.  But it lingers in my soul like fond remembrance of a 
dear departed friend.  Fifteen long years I revelled with it in its 
glory, and for four years past I have mournfully watched by its dying 
couch, flattering myself with a hope of restoration, and yet it is 
constantly drugged and kept in state of suspense between life and 
death, by a class of vulgar-mouthed avaricious filibusters who have 
scarcely sense enough to make the cheap ambrotype much more the 
beautiful daguerreotype.
   But so it must lie.  Kings are mighty, but dollars are more mighty!  
I would not be greatly surprised to see the American mother bartering 
away her offspring for gold, or exchanging the smiling babe at her 
breast for a negro or a monkey.  For such is the comparison between the 
daguerreotype and the ambrotype.  Imagine for one moment; before you, 
stands two female figures, the one is a black wench and the other a 
beautiful white lady, and at the same time held in one hand is a 
daguerreotype, and in the other an ambrotype; the ambrotypes is most 
distinct, it stands out the boldest, and so is the wench in looks and 
smell stronger than the white lady; but look again, and again, and if 
you finally decide that the wench is more beautiful than the white 
lady; or that the ambrotype compares in beauty with the daguerreotype, 
you are a fool and ought to be dispatched at once to Nicaragua as a 
boot-black to Captain Walker.  You have mistaken your calling and have 
assumed a position for which nature has not fitted you, and are more 
contemptible and troublesome than a dead ass in the gateway.  But you 
offer your wares cheap and fools buy them.

Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

Return to: DagNews 1998

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