Ghosts in the Mirror: Daguerreotypes

This photo is a whole-plate daguerreotype* found in a “miscellaneous” drawer as I continue my latest photo-inventory tasks. On first glance, this just looked like a 6×8-inch tarnished and scratched-up mirror — a wrecker — without any image on it at all. But, there! At the right tilt, faint images appear. I put it on my scanner, and with a little photoshop-magic, the faces appear: 5 men from the 1840s, commemorating some event with a feeling of sober camaraderie, the center man’s arm on his buddy’s shoulder (see detail below). They don’t look alike enough to be brothers. They have hairlines of men in their thirties. Maybe a town council… or church elders… or a college reunion.

This is why it takes me so long to catalog a collection — I get fascinated — which, when you think about it, is why we have collections.

*Daguerreotypes were the first commercially viable form of photography, invented by Louis Daguerre in 1839. The innovation swept through the world during the 1840s. Each photo is unique — a “one-off” — created on a sheet of copper, coated with silver, exposed, then developed with a fume of mercury.

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