Louis Daguerre Biography - Invention of Daguerreotype

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787 - 1851) was French artist, painter, photographer, and a developer of the diorama theatre. He is the most famous for development of daguerreotype which is one of the earliest successful methods of photography.

Picture Of Louis Daguerre

Louis Daguerre was born on November 18th, 1787 in Cormeilles-en-Parisis, Val-d'Oise, in France. He collected his knowledge through apprenticeships and he did it in architecture, theatre design, and panoramic painting. Inspired with camera obscura he tried to find a way to preserve the image that it creates. He heard about Nicéphore Niépce who also experimented with photography and they partnered in 1829 with idea to improve photographic process. Niépce invented heliograph which used plate covered with Bitumen of Judea which hardened when exposed to light. Soft parts were easy to remove but the plate had to be exposed for hours or days and the whole process was not too practical. When Niépce died in 1833, Daguerre continued with experiments and shifted his focus from bitumen to silver salts which are also light sensitive. He used a thin silver-plated copper sheet and exposed it to the vapor given off by iodine crystals which gave him a layer of light-sensitive silver iodide on the surface. This process he called daguerreotype and at first it also needed long periods of exposure to show an image. Later he found out that an invisibly faint image (called “latent image”) that is a result of a much shorter exposure can be chemically developed into a visible image if it is exposed to vapors given off by mercury heated to 75°C. Image is fixed after that by washing the plate in a hot saturated solution of common salt. With further experimenting Daguerre found that a mild solution of sodium thiosulfate works better and is much less poisonous. Resulting image is mirrored and dark parts of an image have reflective surface and have to be held in a way that they reflect dark color. They were often cased in glass to prevent tarnishing that appeared if a daguerreotype was exposed to air for too long. At first exposure had to be 10 minutes or more but in a few years Daguerre managed to shorten it to just few seconds by using different chemicals and “fast lenses”.

Daguerre went public with his invention in 1839 but at first without explanation how his process works. He presented it to the French Academy of Sciences on 7 January. Academy's perpetual secretary François Arago received full explanation about principle but only under strict confidentiality. French Government was given rights for daguerreotype in exchange for lifetime pensions for Daguerre and Niépce's son Isidore. On 19 August 1839, the French Government gave rights for daguerreotype “free to the world” together with complete working instructions. In 1939, National Academy of Design gave Louis Daguerre title of an Honorary Academician.

Beside photography, Daguerre worked on dioramas and in fact invented them with Charles Marie Bouton. They were scenes that when illuminated from front showed one scene and when illuminated from back showed another. For instance, trains would move and then crash or scene would show landscape before and after earthquake. The first diorama theatre opened 11 July 1822 and showed two dioramas - one Daguerre’s and the other Bouton’s which in time became standard and one would always present interior while the other present landscape. These dioramas were not toys but large scenes. Some scenes where 20 meters wide and 14 meters high and were watched by audiences of around 350 people. Bouton eventually withdrew, and left the diorama theater to Daguerre.

Louis Daguerre died on July 10th 1851 in Bry-sur-Marne from heart failure.