William J. Shew Untitled (Mother and Daughter) c. 1850

  • Not on view

American photographer William J. Shew, who owned his own daguerreotype studio in Boston, took this portrait of a mother and her daughter. Produced without a negative, daguerreotypes are direct positive prints, in that the image forms directly on the plates of silver or silver coated copper that were used in this early photographic process. Since these plates were not as light-sensitive as film, which had not been invented yet, they needed ample exposure time. As a result, subjects had to remain still before the camera for prolonged periods in order for their image to come out clearly. They were often aided in this uncomfortable requirement by chairs fitted with devices to hold their head and back in place, which could cause them to appear like the mother and daughter in this image: formally or stiffly posed, with serious facial expressions.

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 person could go to a studio and have a portrait made of themselves and their loved ones for posterity. But while daguerreotype portraits were less expensive and more accessible than painted ones, because they are unique, they have come to be considered singular and precious.

2 3/4 × 2 1/4" (7 × 5.7 cm)
Gift of Ludwig Glaeser
Object number

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