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

On this day (March 15) in the year 1889, the following account appeared in "The British Journal of Photography" Vol. 36, No. 1506 (15 March 1889) pp. 183-184. (Part one of a two-part article. Part two appears in Vol. 36, No. 1507 (22 March 1889) pp. 200-201 and will be posted to DagNews on the appropriate day.) - - - - - - - - TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF THE PHOTOGRAPHER. [A Communication to the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York.] Now, ladies and gentlemen, I have been asked to talk on the Trials and Tribulations of the Photographer. Well, I stood it for forty-one years, and I should be very sorry to undertake to tell you all of them. It might take me another forty-one years to get through with it. But, fortunately--or unfortunately--I generally try to make the best of everything, and what might have been a trial to many I endeavoured to laugh off. I was told that the business was very unhealthy, but I tried to laugh and grow fat. I commenced at a hundred and twenty-five pounds and finished at two hundred, so that it was not very unhealthy in my case. In speaking of the Daguerreotype (and we have just listened to a very interesting and a very excellent address), I want to say that I was a practical Daguerreotyper from fifteen to seventeen years, and in looking over some old books of account I believe that I made and sold to the public 200,000 pictures, so that I am something like the boy eating pie--I have had an enormous experience. I well remember the 17th day of October, 1846. I placed at my door a little frame. I think it had four pictures in it, and at that date the people were very much interested in the Daguerreotype. It was the "wonderful silver picture," and you would hardly have time to hang your frame out in the morning before there would be large crowds around it, all anxious to get a sight at the wonderful picture; and at that date a man who made a good Daguerreotype was looked on as a scientific man. He was not a mere "machine worker," as photographers have to be called to-day. I believe that, not only in talking of talking of photography, but in writing of it, there is too much latitude nowadays and too much fancy writing. It is not practical enough. It is quite amusing to me to read six, or eight, or ten columns in one of our photographic journals written by some young man who has never stood under a skylight, and yet he gives us directions as to how it should be done, and how to do it. Place that same man under the skylight and let him wait all day upon eighty people--all kinds of people, men, women, and children-- and let him do that for each day, and there would not be enough left of some of these writers to make a respectable funeral when night came. I am glad I had a subject. I will try and stick to it, but I am afraid I will not. I should be sorry to speak about any new developers. I think there are 2103 or 3102--somewhere along there--and each one susceptible of two or three changes. I have some compassion on the brain of amateurs, as I understand the lunatic asylums, like the learned professions, are crowded. And then, again, I have been asked if I would not recommend before this audience somebody's plates; I am too much of a coward for that. There are too many good plates in the market, and I would not dare to recommend one man's plates for fear I would never see any peace and comfort the remainder of my days from the rest of the makers. In short, I would rather not do it. As I say, I am too much of a coward for that. I saw a pretty good Irish bull the other day. It seems that Pat came very near being killed, but by some dexterous movement he saved his life and got away. Some one said to him, "Pat you are a coward." "Well," said Pat, "I had rather be coward for ten minutes than be a dead man all the rest of my life." And so it is in regard to the recommendation of any specific plates, for if I did I would never see a minute's peace. But there is one things I would say, and with all the nonsense I want to mix a little sense: Get a good reliable plate and get a good developer and go to work and master them. Then, after you have mastered them, if you can find some changes that are going to be better, all right; but if you are going to follow each and every one's make and each and every one's suggestion, you will never make a worker. In the old days of the Daguerreotype we had one developer, and I think sometimes to-day it would be a good thing if we never had but one. There would not be half the changes and mistakes and half the plates spoiled that you see to-day. I remember once a very singular thing. We used to have to go out and take sick people. We had a little developing box that I could carry under my arm-- the camera and the whole thing, and the mercury for developing the picture, and a lamp to heat it; and the mercury after use we poured out from the corner here into a little bottle. I went one day and took some pictures of a sick lady, and when I came to pick up my things to go home I found I had not put my mercury in the bath at all, but my pictures came out just as well. That was a very singular circumstance to me, but I accounted for it very soon: there was enough mercury in the iron developing box to develop a picture, but I never made that mistake afterwards. In the olden time the public had a very hazy conception of the process of making a picture. The people at that time knew no more about how the impression was made, and not so much as the most ignorant do to-day; and they think if the machine is good a good picture is the result, and that is all they know about it. And in those times they talked in this way: One man would show his superior wisdom (he was telling the men who were around him), "You look in the machine and the picture comes, if you look long enough." Another one says, "It is not so much the looking, but the sun burns it in when you look." Another one settles the whole thing by saying, "It is not so much the looking, but the plate itself is a looking-glass, and if you sit in front of it long enough your shadow stick on the plate." I have heard those very remarks made myself. We had a great many pupils in those days, and everybody who could not succeed in something else started to learn Daguerreotypy, and the first question the pupil would ask was, "How long does it take?" I was forty-one years at it, and I never learned it all in that time; and they had an idea you only had to get your machine, try it a few times, and you had learned it all. I used to tell them I could not tell how long it would take any man to learn it, as one would learn more in two days than another would in two weeks. Mr. Weston, who was on the corner of Broadway and John-street, told me a very amusing story. A man, he said, came from a neighbouring city to learn to make Daguerreotypes, and after he came in the room and was told what the price would be and the cost of the camera and all that sort of thing, he said, very well, he wanted to take instructions. He was going to stay in New York two weeks. Mr. Weston coated a plate, which was about the plan Professor Laudy has shown us here to-night, and he said, "Is that all?" and Mr. Weston said, "Yes, that is all; that is what you do every time." And the man said, "I am not going to pay board here in New York for two weeks for that!--why, I can do that myself!" And so he straightway took his camera and other necessary appliances, and in about four days after that he came back, with fire in his eye, and walked in, holding the camera by the nozzle, and said, "There it is!--it is not worth a damn!" And Mr. Weston said, "What is the matter?" and he said, "It won't take a picture." And Weston coated a plate and put it in the camera, and brought out a picture at once. The man says, "I could not get it." "Of course you could not do it; you only say me go through the motions two or three times, and you thought you knew it all." He said, "I set it in front of the window where I worked, and about half a mile off there was a hill. Do you suppose that was the matter? Do you suppose that hill made the trouble?" I mention this incident simply to show you what perfect ignorance there was in regard to it. And then the name of the "Daguerreotype"--as to spelling it, that was almost an impossibility. some called them "doggertypes," some "daggertypes," some "degyrotypes," and the vulgar "dogtypes." And the "dark room" was a place about which a great many people had a very curious and amusing idea. Some would ask, "What do you do in there?" One thought you went in there and did some hocus-pocus and some sleight-of-hand work to develop the picture; and another would say, "You need not be so particular to shut that door; I don't want to steal your trade." We were not so much afraid of the trade as we were of the tools, and in those days you did not see people bring a crowd of persons together to explain to them some new method of development, or a thing of that kind, as you do to-day. Every man that got a hold of an idea kept it to himself, and he would never let another photographer or Daguerreotyper go into his dark room. Every man was the personification of all wisdom. And the improvements came so fast! What we learned one day, in two or three days was of no use, for something had been brought out in the meantime that was entirely new, and superseded what we learned a day or two before. The advance has been very rapid in photography. During my earlier days, in 1846, on a dark day I have often kept people sitting four minutes for a picture. Now, if some of you ladies and gentlemen will take out you watch and time four minutes and tell a man not to wink, you would see what a very difficult thing it was at that time; but the usual sittings were from thirty to forty seconds, and, finally, they were reduced down from ten to twelve; but I have been compelled to take four minutes many a time on a dark day. Now, as to the Daguerreotype, I want to mention one fact which is not commonly known. The Daguerreotype will not fade, and I know what I am talking about when I make that assertion. While it will not fade, it will become tarnished on the surface, but that can be easily cleaned. I have cleaned a great many of them and made them just as perfect as they were the day they were taken, provided some person has not taken a handkerchief and rubbed it out. I remember a case: Only a few years ago a lady came to me with a half-sized picture, and you could not see anything at all upon it. She wanted to know if I could clean it, and I took it and cleaned it, and in about five minutes I brought it to her and showed it to her and she fainted dead away in a moment. It was her husband who had been dead twenty years, and she had not seen the picture in fifteen years. It was so completely covered with a film that there was nothing to be seen, and I brought it up as good as it was originally. As I say, the lady fainted immediately. It was just as if her husband had been brought back from the grave for her to see. ABRAHAM BOGARDUS (To be concluded.) -------------------------------------------------------------- 03-15-98

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