From The American Journal of Science and Arts (New Haven) Vol. 37, No. 1 (July 1839) pp. 183-185. Included under the header, "Miscellanies. Domestic and Foreign," Robison's article is the third of three articles regarding photography. (Part I is "Photogenic Drawings;" Part II is "Photographic processes.")
III. Perfection of the Art, as stated in Notes on Daguerre's Photography. By SIR JOHN ROBISON.*(1)
SirIn compliance with the request, that I should commit to writing and put into your hands the substance of what I communicated to the Society of Arts in reply to the questions put to me at the last meeting, I beg to state, that circumstances having led to my being included in a small party of English gentlemen who were lately invited to visit the studio of M. Daguerre, to see the results of his discovery, I had an opportunity of satisfying myself, that the pictures produced by his process have no resemblance to any thing which, as far as I know, has yet been produced in this country; and that, excepting in the absence of color, they are as perfect images of the objects they represent, as are those which are seen by reflection from a highly polished surface. The perfection and fidelity of the pictures are such, that on examining them by microscopic power, details are discovered which are not perceivable to the naked eye in the original objects, but which, when searched for there by the aid of optical instruments, are found in perfect accordance; a crack in plaster, a withered leaf lying on a projecting cornice, or an accumulation of dust in a hollow moulding of a distant building, when they exist in the original, are faithfully copied in these wonderful pictures.
The subjects of most of the numerous specimens which I saw, were views of streets, boulevards, and buildings, with a considerable number of what may be termed interiors with still life; among the latter were various groups made up of plaster-casts and other works of art. It is difficult to express intelligibly a reason for the charm which is felt in beholding these pictures; but I think it must arise, in some measure, from finding that so much of the effect which we attribute to color, is preserved in the picture, although it consist only in light and shade; these, however, are given with such accuracy, that, in consequence of different materials reflecting light differently, it is easy to recognize those of which the different objects in the groups are formed. A work in white marble is at once distinguished from one in plaster-of-Paris by the translucency of the edges of the one, and the opacity of the other. Among the views of buildings, the following were remarkable: A set of three pictures of the same group of houses, one taken soon after sunrise, one at noon, and one in the evening; in these the change of aspect produced by the variations in the distribution of light, was exemplified in a way which art could never attain to.
One specimen was remarkable from its showing the progress made by light in producing the picture. A plate having been exposed during 30 seconds to the action of the light and then removed, the appearance of the view was that of the earliest dawn of day; there was a grey sky, and a few corners of buildings and other objects beginning to be visible through the deep black in which all the rest of the picture was involved.
The absence of figures from the streets, and the perfect way in which the stones of the causeway and the foot-pavements are rendered, is, at first sight, rather puzzling, though a little reflection satisfies one that passing objects do not remain long enough to make any perceptible impression, and that (interfering only for a moment with the light reflected from the road,) they do not prevent a nearly accurate picture of it being produced.
Vacillating objects make indistinct pictures, e.g. a person getting his boot cleaned by a decrotteur gave a good picture, except that having moved his head in speaking to the shoe-black, his hat was out of shape, and the decrotteur's right arm and brush were represented by a half-tinted blot, which the foot of the gentleman was partially visable.
There can be no doubt that when M. Daguerre's process is known to the public, it will be immediately applied to numberless useful purposes, as by means of it, accurate views of architecture, machinery, &c., may be taken, which being transferred to copper or to stone, may be disseminated at a cheap rate; and useful books on many subjects may be got up with copious illustrations, which are now too costly to be attainable: even the fine arts will gain, for the eyes accustomed to the accuracy of Daguerreotype pictures, will no longer be satisfied with bad drawing, however spendidly it may be colored. In one department, it will give valuable facility. Anatomical and surgical drawings, so difficult to make with the fidelity which it is desirable they should possess, will then be easily produced by a little skill and practice in the disposition of the subjects and of the lights.
It is a curious circumstance that, at the same time that M. Daguerre has made this beautiful and useful discovery in the art of delineation, another Parisian artist*(2) has discovered a process by which he makes solid casts in plaster of small animals or other objects, without seams or repairs, and without destroying the model, (Moulage d'une seule piece, sans couture ni reparage, et avec conservation parfaite du modele). I am in possession of several specimens of his work, among which are casts of the hand of an infant of six months, so delicately executed, that the skin shows evident marks of being affected by some slight eruptive disease. I am, dear Sir, very faithfully yours,