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  The research archive of Gary W. Ewer regarding the history of the daguerreotype

The following text is from "The Photographic and Fine Art Journal" Vol. 8, No. 3 (March 1855) pg. 76. ON TAKING DAGUERREOTYPES OF CHILDREN. Rochester, Feb. 6, 1855. FRIEND SNELLING,--It is so long since I have sent you a communication of any kind, that I am fearful you have crossed me off your books as incorrigible. But, really, you have not a warmer friend (at heart) for self and Journal than myself; true I have not openly manifested it by my works, or by success in persuading others to subscribe, still there has been seed sown from which I hope you may reap bountifully. This year I hope to do better; the Journal is ours, we ought to use it to promote each others welfare and to advance the Art. Many no doubt, like myself, entirely unused to writing for publication, feel a delicacy about sending contributions for its columns, but if we can communicate some important truth concerning our business, those who are benefitted will care but little about the dressing that goes with it. I for one feel that the Daguerreotypist and artists generally of this country are under obligations to you they never can repay; your valuable Journal, the result of ceaseless toil and study on your part, is hailed with pleasure in its monthly rounds; but we in our selfishness are apt to forget the author who is striving to benefit us and the art to which he has devoted himself. I promised long since a communication regarding my manner of catching shadows of uneasy, unconscious babydom; a branch of our business exceedingly important, yet looked upon with rather unfavorable eyes by most daguerreotypists, and neglected much to their disadvantage. It is a difficult task to describe one's actions, and yet they being the all important agents in this process, we must try. If you do not have a remarkably quick instrument, you can expose the plate after coating by candle-light--or coat entire with the door of the coating room open, or if there is time, the plate will work quicker after being prepared some fifteen minutes. I coat my plate simply with iodine and bromine, the usual coating for all pictures. A child should be taken as soon after entering the operating-room as possible. It is not advisable to attempt any arrangement. Let those who accompany and are familiar with it, do that hastily, carelessly, and the child will naturally assist, for their attitudes are always beautiful. I generally use an elevated platform, about five feet square, and one foot high, for several reasons, viz: to get nearer to the light, and a better range for the instrument, than the height ordinarily used. When a picture is to be made to represent the child reclining on the carpet, place the platform on two chairs, and have some boxes, assorted sizes, covered with carpet; use one the proper size for it to lean on. If a very young child is to be taken, I have an ordinary high chair, the back rail stuffed, against which the head will naturally rest; a band of red cloth nailed on one side, with strings at the end to tie around the child, hugging it close to the cushioned back rail; thus it is held as in its mothers' arms. If this fail, and it will not rest its head, turn the chair half-way round; this will cause it to turn the head back towards the operator, and give a steady look for a second, which you must catch. I use, with good success, a little toy bird, that I make sing inside the camera, occasionally showing a part of it to attract attention to the instrument. After all, I fear no one will be the wiser for what I have written, as I said, it is so difficult to describe actions rarely twice alike; but, to sum up, observe the following: Have two or three plates at hand, and as soon as the child is placed, when parents, nurse, and all present, are talking, laughing, and baby is struck dumb with surprise at its strange position, then is the golden moment--then, if ever, you will get it; you may try after the child has become familiar with you and the room, but the more you try the worse you are off. As a general thing, if operators will allow it, parents suggest this, and propose that, and by following their advice the picture is lost. You should always have your own way with children, and the motto that I have used so many years in my own room, written by a distinguished man, should be posted in every room in the country. It reads thus: "The experience of one who has often been daguerreotyped, is to let the operator have his own way." In conclusion, I would say, that sometimes I have trouble with children, but as a general thing less trouble than with adults, and three out of four plates used frequently sell. Business has been unusually good the past year, and even at this generally dull season we are steadily employed, and the operators in the various towns about us are doing well. In a few days I will send you an advertisement for my stock business, as I have about concluded to resume it as formerly. Yours, with respect, E. T. WHITNEY. (Whitney identifies the "distinguished man" as Gerritt Smith [regarding the quote, "The experience of one who has often been daguerreotyped. . ."] in his article "The Treatment of the Sitter" in "The Philadelphia Photographer" Vol. 10, No. 117 [September 1873] pp. 320-321.) -------------------------------------------------------------- 03-03-98

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