Louis Daguerre

Art on This Day

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French artist and photographer Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre was born on this day in 1787. Most notable for the invention of the daguerreotype process of photography he became known as one of the fathers of photography.

Daguerre was apprenticed in architecture, theatre design, and panoramic painting. Skilled in theatrical illusion, he became a celebrated designer for the theatre. He partnered with Nicéphore Niépce, an inventor who had produced the world's first heliograph in 1822. After his death Daguerre continued experimenting, and evolved the process into what became the daguerreotype. The process involved exposing a thin silver-plated copper sheet to iodine crystals vapor, producing a coating of light-sensitive silver iodideon the surface. The plate was then exposed in the camera. Initially, this process required a long exposure to produce a distinct image, but Daguerre made the discovery that an invisibly faint "latent" image created by a much shorter exposure could be chemically "developed" into a visible image. Upon seeing the image, the contents of which are unknown, Daguerre said, "I have seized the light – I have arrested its flight!"

Arrangements were made for Daguerre's rights to be acquired by the French Government in exchange for lifetime pensions for himself and Niépce's son Isidore; then, on 19 August 1839, the French Government presented the invention as a gift from France "free to the world", and complete working instructions were published. In 1839, he was elected to the National Academy of Design as an Honorary Academician.