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

During the month of August in the year 1855, the following article (by the Philadelphia daguerreotypist Marcus A. Root) appeared in "The Photographic and Fine Art Journal" page 246-247: - - - - - - - - - - For the Photographic and Fine Art Journal. A T R I P T O B O S T O N. -- B O S T O N A R T I S T S. The Boston Daguerreotypists and Photographers, as a body, probably occupy a higher place of intelligence, energy and personal reputation, than those of any other city in the United States. Already they have done, and they are now doing much for the elevation of Heliography and its professors, in the public esteem. Even the "twenty-five," "fifty cents," and "one dollar" operators are more skilful, and produce better results than many of the "first class" elsewhere. But the profession, even here, is degraded by some of the same class, who have wrought so much mischief in other sections of our country. To such narrow-minded "Rats" in the vocation, (to borrow an epithet from the printers,) we say, "Shame--shame,"--for thus debasing in the public estimation an Art at once so beautiful and so rich in valuable uses! One of the oldest practitioners in the United States, and probably the very oldest in Boston, is Albert Southworth, now, and for several years past of the firm of Southworth & Hawes, Tremont Row. To their honor be it said, they have never lowered the dignity of their Art or their profession by reducing their prices, but their fixed aim and undeviating rule has been to produce the finest specimens, of which they were capable,--the finest in every respect, artistic, mechanical, and chemical; graceful, pleasing in posture and arrangement, and exact in portraiture. Their style, indeed, is peculiar to themselves; presenting beautiful effects of light and shade, and giving depth and roundness together with a wonderful softness or mellowness. These traits have achieved for them a high reputation with all true artists and connoisseurs. Their plates, too, have an exquisitely pure, fine, level surface, being resilvered and polished on their "patent swinging plate vice;" and are entirely free from waves, bends and dents,--in short, as nearly perfect, as is perhaps possible. And yet, strange to say, their pictures seem to me to be fully appreciated neither by the majority of Heliographers nor by the public. This firm have devoted their time chiefly to daguerreotypes, and have paid but little attention to photography on paper. I noticed, however, in their Gallery, a photographic copy of Gilbert Stuart's original portrait of Washington, full size, and decidedly the best photographic copy of that celebrated portrait I have ever seen. Saving the color, it is as perfect as one could wish. They have also invented and patented a beautiful instrument, by which 24 or 48, or even more (stereoscopic) pictures--taken either upon plate, or paper, or glass,--are exhibited stereoscopically; and so perfect is the illusion, as to impress the beholder with the belief, that the picture is nature itself! Mr. Southworth explained the wonders of the stereoscope very clearly, and he takes his pictures of this class without distortion or exaggeration. I think his principle correct, for his specimens were stereoscopically beautiful, and exempt from the many faults witnessed in those of others. I hope his theory, with instructions for its use, may be published. At our friend Whipple's, (now "Whipple & Black,") Washington street, all was in active movement,--steam puffing; engine whizzing; shaft, buff-wheels, and even the miniature "sun-sign" above the door, revolving. These things, with the busy motions of the several assistants, male and female, imparted to the whole establishment an aspect of great industry and prosperity. Whipple & Black have ever been and still are "hard-working" young men, and have now the advantage, in some points, of all other Boston Heliographers. Competitors, however, are pressing them closely, and may, unless they are vigilant, outstrip them. Their daguerreotypes are like the majority taken by others. Their collodion photographs struck me as, generally, a little inferior to some others, taken in Boston and elsewhere. And yet a few of the cabinet size were remarkable for clearness and depth, boldness, force and brilliancy. Many, however, on exhibition lacked roundness, softness, fineness, and other properties essential to good portraiture. The crystalotypes, or albumen pictures, contrast strongly with the collodion pictures recently produced, both at Whipple's and several other Boston establishments. Except for views and copies (for which it is admirably fitted, the albumen must give way to the collodion process. For portraiture on paper or glass, the latter process, in the hands of several American artists, infinitely transcends at present all other modes of taking Heliographs. The ambrotype Patent being reserved exclusively by M. A. Cutting & Co., in Boston, others have had little encouragement to experiment in this beautiful style of Heliographic portraiture. Yet I saw, taken by Mr. Black, a specimen likeness of a gentleman, which in delicacy and beauty was not only vastly superior to the finest daguerreotypes, but was what an enthusiastic virtuoso would pronounce "a miracle of art." In truth, all enthusiastic daguerreotypists who succeed in producing good photographic or ambrotype portraits by the collodion process, will probably lose--for a time at least--much of their attachment for the daguerreotype process: so much more pleasing, and easily handled by the skilful artist, is the former than the latter. And here I would earnestly urge on Messrs. Cutting & Co. the propriety of sending to all located daguerreotypists who may desire to make these picture, the right of so doing, at rates, so moderate, as to inflict upon them no injustice,--offering the same to all, and permitting the most skilful to "lead the field." In the Gallery of Massury & Silsbee, Boston, I witnessed specimens, which, artistically considered; i. e. for fine delineation, clear development and perfect "relief" from the background, coupled with beauty of finish, are, I think, rarely surpassed in this country. Mr. Silsbee is an artist, and himself colors many of his pictures. In most specimens observed by me, he has selected the best position of the person and of the face; his shadows are beautifully disposed, and, for the most part, soft and harmonious; and the expression of the sitter has evidently been caught more happily, than by most artists. The lights and blacks in these photographs are rich, clear, and brilliant, and the collection, as a whole, exhibits much uniformity of tone and excellence. Mr. Cahill, in Washington street, has taken a position in the front rank of excellence. His photographs are quite equal to the best I have seen without retouching or coloring, and some are exquisitely beautiful, of both small and life size. There is a uniformity of excellence in his specimens, not often surpassed by the ablest Boston professors. I ought not, in concluding these notices, to omit mentioning Mr. Hale, of Washington street, who has confined himself hitherto to daguerreotypes. His establishment in the perfect bijou in all its arrangements and appointments, from the front-door show-case through its whole interior. Everywhere neatness, taste, elegance,--everywhere cheering and enlivening agencies, of which the sight and the song of rare-plumbed and musical birds, are not the least. The Artist himself is a human bijou, and his pictures are very creditable specimens of the art. Of Mr. Ives and Mr. Chase, both also located in Washington street, and both devoting their attention to daguerreotypes exclusively, I can speak in terms of high commendation. By their many beautiful productions they have shown themselves able proficients in their art, while by their character and manners they do honor to their profession. M. A. R., Philadelphia, cor. Chestnut and Fifth sts. -------------------------------------------------------------- 08-03-99

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