Daguerre, Louis

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre was the world's first successful photographer. He was born in 1787 in Cormeilles-en-Parisis, France, a small town near Paris. In 1790, Daguerre's family moved to Orléans. Since the family was not very wealthy, Louis did not have the advantage of a fine education. His father, however, saw that Louis could draw and paint very well and had him study with an architect.

When he was 16 years old, Louis Daguerre decided that he wanted to paint and went to Paris to study. There he studied stage design and worked for Pierre Prévost, a painter of panoramas. Panoramas are huge, curved pictures painted so carefully that anyone looking at them would almost think they were real.

Daguerre became famous as a painter of stage scenery, but his experience with panoramas led him to invent a popular new form of entertainment. In 1822 he and another painter, Charles Bouton, opened the Diorama. The Diorama was similar to a panorama, but it appeared to move by the use of different lighting effects.

Daguerre began to look for other ways to paint realistic images. Scientists had already proved that certain chemicals turned dark when exposed to light. Like others at that time, Daguerre felt that this principle could be used to copy scenes from nature. The camera had already been invented, but there was no way to preserve the images it produced. A French inventor, Joseph Nicéphore Niepce, had found a way to capture images temporarily; in 1829, Daguerre and Niepce formed a partnership and worked to improve this process. After Niepce died in 1833, Daguerre continued the experiments alone.

On January 7, 1839, Daguerre announced the first permanent photographs. These pictures, "fixed" on a tiny, silver-coated copper plate, became known as daguerreotypes.

In 1840, Daguerre retired to the town of Bry-sur-Marne. He died there in 1851.

Reviewed by Robert A. Sobieszek
International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House

 

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