1839 was an extraordinary
year . . . it is forever a testament to the ingenuity of independent
thinkers and to the miracle of simultaneity of invention! In
1839, Louis Daguerre presented his invention of the daguerreotype,
the forerunner of the photograph. But he was not alone in his
discovery! In Latent Image—The Discovery of Photography, Beaumont
Newhall recounts the interaction between Louis Daguerre in
Paris, William Henry Fox Talbot in London, and other pioneers
and experimenters as far away as Brazil, each of whom had discovered
important techniques for producing permanent images by the action
of light—and each of whom, in 1839, challenged or confirmed
Daguerre's discovery. Mr Newhall:
"Photography has no single
inventor. At the same time—and distantly removed from
one another—experimenters were working on the same problem
unaware of each other's work until, in January of 1839, an
announcement was made in Paris by the Academie de Sciences
of the success of one of them, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre.
What had been underground now came to the surface as other
experimenters challenged Daguerre and claimed priority. The
mutual reaction between these pioneers, each learning from
one another, each striving to out do the other, produced at
last a universal technique."
Daguerre's revolutionary process, while it is
now nearly extinct in practice, completely changed the
world. His method of fixing an image on a metal plate was the first commonly
used photographic process, and since no duplication process existed,
each daguerreotype was an original, hence a true Collector’s
item. But by 1860 the daguerreotype was essentially obsolete,
supplanted by the more practical wet-plate, negative-positive
process that remains the basis of photographic technique. To
William Henry Fox Talbot, English scientist, mathematician, botanist
and classical scholar, goes credit for discovering the "negative-positive" principle,
which is the process used in modern photography.
As Beaumont Newhall reminds us in his master
work The History of Photography, universal progress is
being made in the acceptance of photography as a valid and needed
More and more people are turning to photography
as a medium of expression as well as of communication. While
it is too soon to define the characteristics of the photographic
style of today, one common denominator, rooted in tradition,
seems in the ascendancy: the direct use of the camera for what
it can do best, and that is the revelation, interpretation, and
discovery of the world of man and nature. The present challenge
to the photographer is to express inner significance through
1839 at a glance
The United States population was approximately
The population of Santa Fe was 5759; Taos
was 3606; Albuquerque was 2547. The Pueblo population in New
Mexico was approximately 10,000.
The first photographic equipment in the United
States was brought from Paris by Samuel Morse, painter and
inventor. Morse had learned the process from Louis Daguerre,
and he made the first daguerreotype portraits in America.
Martin Van Buren was the 8th President of
the United States.
Voices of the Night, the first collection
of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was published.
Dueling in the District of Columbia was prohibited
by an act of Congress.
Charles Goodyear made possible the commercial
use of rubber by his discovery of the process of "vulcanization."
Paul Cezanne, French painter, was born.
The first bicycle was constructed by Scottish
inventor K. Macmillan.
Abner Doubleday laid out the first baseball
field and conducted the first baseball game.
George Cadbury, English chocolate maker and
social reformer, was born.
California, the first book in English
about the territory, was written by Englishman Alexander Forbes
who suggested cutting a canal across the Isthmus of Panama.
Newhall, Beaumont. The History of Photography.
New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1982.
Newhall, Beaumont. Latent Image—The
Discovery of Photography. Albuquerque: University of New
Mexico Press, 1983.