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Some photographers pose their subjects, others capture candid images of people. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell the difference.

Untitled (Mother and Daughter)

William J. Shew
(American, 1820–1903)

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.

One who uses a camera or other means to produce photographs.

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.