In the Eye of the Camera, 1840-1867

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Introduction I-1063 MP-0000.502.2 MP-1985.10.1.1 MP-0000.542 MP-1975.209.4 MP-1974.114.3 I-6243.1 N-0000.157
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Mrs. J. William Dawson, 1847
Anonyme - Anonymous
1847, 19th century
Silver amalgam on metal (copper) - Daguerreotype
8 x 7 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  female (19035) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

The first photographs offered commercially to the public were produced using the daguerreotype process. By the mid-1840s, daguerreotype portraits were available in Europe and North America, but they were expensive and the process was difficult to learn. Another inconvenience was image reversal. Because the base on which a daguerreotype is made is not transparent, the final picture is a mirror image. For instance, a scar on the right cheek appears on the left cheek in a daguerreotype and any writing is reversed. Daguerreotypes even look like mirrors, as they are made on a silver-coated copper plate and set into a hinged leather-covered wooden case lined with velvet or silk and protected with a glass cover. Once exposure times improved from 40 minutes to 20 seconds, portraits became possible, but their cost put them beyond the average person's means except on very special occasions. With experimentation, the process became faster and faster, but smiles were still rare.