Posted 5 years ago
In looking into the beginnings of photography soon after its invention, I am truly amazed at how quickly it spread to the farthest corners of the world just after its 1839 announcement; and even more so as I broaden my research and camera collection to include early daguerreotype viewers and stereoscopes.
The origin of the first practical photographic process started in France and was not universally embraced as it is today. As with most inventions and innovations, photography had its share of skeptics and, for a brief time, scorn rained down on Louis Daguerre’s 1839 announcement. Regardless, due to pent up public interest after the April 19th announcement in Paris, photography quickly made its way to Britain, Germany and crossed the Atlantic to the United States. Samuel Morse recognized the importance of Daguerre’s achievement in a letter to the inventor on May 20th. He subsequently learned the process and taught others.
Evidence of photography’s incredibly fast ascension to a global level is also seen in remote countries such as India as early as January 1840. Commercialization of the country’s photographic trade was assisted by the government and by the 1850s it was no longer considered a novelty.
This rare 1850s viewer with original daguerreotype image pair made by F.W. Baker of Calcutta is an example of India’s maturing photographic industry. Baker, after moving to Calcutta, was first employed as an assistant in 1855. By 1857 he established a studio and advertised it as “Baker’s Daguerrian Room” noting the availability of “Stereoscopic likenesses in Claudet’s patent folding cases.”
This fine dark maroon leather covered folding viewer is based on a design patented by French photographer Antoine Claudet (#711, March 23, 1853). It is distinctive and important because, unlike other folding viewing cases, the lenses are mounted in a thin leather covered enclosure which springs out an inch (or so) to more comfortably view the image pair.
The stereo daguerreotype of an anonymous well dressed gentleman and lady is not a great composition, only technically adequate, and lacks intimacy. Could this be a brother and sister? On the other hand, the stereo pair has nice artistic qualities. The photographer / artist painstakingly hand-tinted both images to be identical in appearance. If you think about it, tinting had to be done correctly the first time; coloring errors were not reversible and it took a lot of skill to keep from potentially ruining the images.
The woman’s wonderfully lavish dress is made more striking with careful hand-tinting using a pink dye. The artist also had a light-handed deft touch in delicately tinting exposed skin (arms and faces) for a natural look; something that is usually overdone.
Oh ... and a bit of trivia for those of you who got this far into this post ... the first successful daguerreotype in the United States, an 8 to 10 minute exposure of New York’s St. Paul’s church, was made by a local resident, D.W. Seager, on September 16, 1839. It was a remarkable event because the process was made public only a short time before then!