Untitled (Mother and Daughter)
William J. Shew
1855. Daguerreotype, 2 3/4 x 2 1/4" (7 x 5.7 cm)
This portrait of a mother and daughter was taken by American photographer William J. Shew, who owned his own daguerreotype studio in Boston. In order to capture a clear image, the sitters had to remain very still for a prolonged period of time, sometimes up to three minutes. Photographers developed devices to hold the subject’s head and back in place, producing formal, often stiff-looking poses or uneasy and serious facial expressions. A daguerreotype is made from a direct positive process in the camera on a single silver-coated copper plate. No reproductions could be made from the original. In this sense, even though the daguerreotype portrait was less expensive and more accessible than a painted portrait, it was still considered singular and precious.
The visual or narrative focus of a work of art.
The way a figure is positioned.
A representation of a particular individual.
A photographic term referring to a positive image made directly by exposure to light and by development without the use of a negative. In a direct positive print an image is produced on a surface and then treated chemically to imitate the tonal range of nature.
A facial aspect indicating an emotion; also, the means by which an artist communicates ideas and emotions.
A photographic technique invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in 1839. A daguerreotype uses a silver or silver-coated-copper plate to develop an image in a camera obscura. The image is formed when the light-sensitive plate is exposed to light through a camera lens. A daguerreotype was a unique, direct positive image that could not produce copies.
What Happened When?
In 1839 Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre announced to members of the French Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Fine Arts an invention he had developed for making pictures. For the first time, through a mechanical and chemical process, people could see their likenesses captured on the silvery surface of a daguerreotype.
A Portrait for Everyone
With the advent of photography, posing for a portrait—once reserved for artists’ models and wealthy patrons—became a part of the broader modern experience. For a relatively low cost, the average working man or woman could go to a studio and have a portrait made of themselves and their loved ones for posterity.