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

On this day (October 7) in the year 1887, the following article appeared in "The British Journal of Photography" (London; published weekly) Vol. 35, No.1431 (7 October 1887) pp. 665-666: - - - - - - - RECOLLECTIONS OF PHOTOGRAPHY IN NEW YORK. (The Reunion of the Photographic Societies of New York.) I AM well aware that the most successful after-dinner speeches are those that contribute most to the mirthfulness of the occasion; speeches that are crowded with pleasantry and humour, and sparkle like the wine so often drank at such social gatherings. Now I must confess I am not gifted in this branch of speech making, and therefore can only say a few simple words in response to the toast our President has assigned to me. If, however, what I say shall tend to allay the jealousy or ill-feeling of any professional toward those who practice the art simply for their pleasure, I shall accomplish the main purpose of thus occupying a brief portion of your time. It often affords us pleasure to reflect on the scenes and events of our past life--the school in which we were first taught, the boys who were our playmates, and our first attempts to learn some business or profession in which we hoped to win success in the world. We can now think of the sports and loves of our youth without being angered by the petty cares that were then mingled with them; we can remember the bright hopes we entertained, the fancies we indulged, and the airy castles we built, without regretting that they have never been realised. We can now think of our first efforts in one or more of the various photographic processes that have been introduced in the last fifty years, processes that have so quickly followed each other that before one could be fully developed it must be laid aside for another. We can now think of our struggle in keeping pace with the rapid advances of the art, the difficulties we surmounted, and the disadvantages under which we laboured when we must needs be our own chemists and carpenters and our own teachers of optics and art. We can remember the balky chemicals, the faulty lenses, the cumbersome apparatus, and the inappropriate light and heat in which we were forced to work. We can remember how unsuccessful we often were in overcoming the abnormal action of the chemical compounds with which we had to deal; the perplexities and anxieties we passed through; and how, our imaginations being aroused, we were often led to condemn the chemicals rather than our want of dexterity and skill in the proper management of them. All these difficulties, together with the thousand and one now forgotten, tended to keep the mind of the photographer in a state of continual suspense, and make his whole life a sea of disappointments, shallows, and uncertainties. All this we now glance back at and feel surprised that we were so perplexed and discomfited; for we can now look upon these failures from a more philosophic standpoint and perceive their uses in the development of the art. We can now see how the pioneers cut a roadway through the forests so that the whole continent of photography might be travelled with certainty and success. There are yet obstacles and difficulties to be overcome, but the brain force enlisted to surmount these is a hundredfold greater than ever before. The facilities for obtaining information by means of books, photographic associations and conventions, must greatly lessen the labour of every student as well as improve the quality of his work. There is no branch of the art now that has not its competent teachers and guide-books, and hence any who may feel disposed can easily become familiar with its secrets and enjoy the thousand delights and uses to which they lead. Among the earliest impression of my photographic history are the recollections of my exalted ideas of the honour of being a Daguerreotype artist. And I regarded the apparent or seeming simplicity of the art within the reach of my means and ability, I at once embarked in it, in order to win success. Thus in course of time I isolated myself from every other means of making a living, and however willingly I would have parted company with the profession, I could devise no means of accomplishing it without making a sacrifice more unbearable than the business itself. Being thus cut off from all means of retreat, it was a forced march onward, until good luck so attended my efforts that I was content to bear the ills I had rather than to fly to others that I knew not of. Thus content gradually inspired me with a love for the art that has never waned, and though I now know there is neither much honour nor money to be won in its pursuit, it has a charm that will no doubt hold me "till death do us part." At a time when there were only some five or six Daguerreotypists in the City of New York, I called on one of the most noted, whose place of business was on Broadway, only a few blocks from my own, and in course of conversation was severely censured by him for giving instruction in the art. His idea was that it should be kept a profound secret, that there were already too many in the business, and that he alone would undertake to make all the Daguerreotypes the city demanded. There is no doubt he could have done this and taken a less number of pictures in a month than is now taken in a single day by some of our leading photographers. In attempting to defend myself as best I could, I endeavoured to convince him that every one we could persuade to learn the business was not only fifty or a hundred dollars in our pockets, but, if they succeeded, their influence and money would tend to multiply the demand for pictures and more rapidly develop the capabilities of the art. I think, however, I failed to convince him of the truth of my philosophy, for he still continues the old cry that there are too many in the business, and that those who are in it are most greatly injured by the amateurs outside. It has never occurred to him that he is indebted to them for the best text-books on photography, for the largest portion of its literature, and for its most ingenious mechanical inventions and chemical compounds. Every thoughtful photographer cannot fail to perceive that the amateur element, by means of its wealth, culture, and refinement, has added much to the dignity of the art and the volume of its capital. The professional should therefore cease to be envious of the amateur and seek rather to win his favour, for it is only by the union of both that the highest good of all can ever be accomplished. J. B. GARDNER. -------------------------------------------------------------- 10-07-99

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