"Records of Simple Truth and Precision": Photography, Archives, and the Illusion of Control
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Introduction: “Daguerreotypomania” In December of 1839, Théodore Maurisset, a French printmaker, produced a lithograph entitled La Daguerr éotypomanie. The scene has been described in delightful detail by Helmut and Alison Gernsheim: The caricature shows a crowd of people pushing into the enterprising establishment of Susse Frères, attracted by an enormous advertisement to buy daguerreotypes for New Year’s gifts. Over the entrance large notices proclaim that “Non-inverted pictures can be taken in 13 minutes without sunshine.” While one photographer is just aiming his camera up the skirts of a tight-rope dancer on the left, another tries to take the portrait of a child whose mother and nannie do their best to keep his struggles in check. Baron Séguier, inventor of the portable apparatus for travellers, passes by, his boxes tucked under his arm. Their contents are displayed in the right foreground, where Dr. Donné (who attempted the arst portrait) holds a sitter imprisoned in a posing-chair as if he were in the stocks, calmly counting the minutes while his victim endures the torture. Above this pleasant open-air studio, daguerreotypes are etched according to Donné’s system. A procession of daguerreotypomaniacs, carrying a banner with the inscription, “Down with the aquatint” passes the gallows, where a few engravers deprived of their livelihood have already hanged themselves, while other gallows are still to be let. Nearby, a group of revellers drunk with enjoyment dance to music round a mercurybox as if it were the Golden Calf. Train- and ship-loads of cameras are being exported, and daguerreotypomaniacs have good reason for holding a public meeting to worship the invention: has not competition by rival arms (to Giroux’s) already reduced the price of apparatus to 300, 250 and even 200 francs? The sun smiles benignly down on his creation. Surveying the things that had come to pass during the last few months, Maurisset adds a touch of prophecy: a photographer recording the scene from a balloon with a basket in the form of a camera— as are the railway carriages and the clock-tower surmounting the Maison Susse Frères.1 In this caricature, Maurisset presented a remarkably prescient view of the expectations, applications, and implications of the daguerreotype.2 Writings by the proponents and practitioners of photography who followed elaborated upon Maurisset’s themes: travel photography, portrait photography, erotic photography, aerial photography , the death of the engraver (artist), photography on paper, commercial competition, cumbersome equipment, the role of the Sun (Nature) as image-maker. Situated more broadly, the daguerreotype collaborated with the paddlewheel steamer, the steam locomotive, and the hotair balloon to extend the powers of human observation across space and allied itself with the clock to contain and control time. La Daguerréotypomanie depicted, in caricature , what Charles Baudelaire later decried as “an industrial madness.”3 It also offers a visual commentary on the society which embraced not only the daguerreotype but also the fonds system of archival classiacation. In this essay, I suggest that the social origins of “daguerreotypomania ” are of particular interest from an archival perspective because the deaning moments in both the history of modern archives and the history of photography can be traced to the same two-year period in France, 1839–41. 61 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ “Records of Simple Truth and Precision” Photography, Archives, and the Illusion of Control Joan M. Schwartz ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ On June 15, 1839, France’s Minister of the Interior, Tanneguay Duchâtel, appeared before the Chamber of Deputies to introduce a bill that proposed to grant to Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) an “annuity for life of 6,000 francs” as compensation for his part in surrendering to the French government the details of what is arguably the arst practicable photographic process. After years of collaboration and experimentation , Daguerre, a noted Paris diorama painter and theater set designer, had discovered a way to ax the image of the camera obscura. A drawing aid and forerunner of the photographic camera, the camera obscura was essentially a light-tight box with a small opening on one wall. Light passing through the opening cast an upsidedown , laterally reversed but perspectivally correct, image of an outside scene onto the opposite wall.4 The optical principles of the camera obscura had been known for centuries; similarly, the chemical principles of the darkening of silver salts were well documented. What Daguerre managed to do was combine these principles to produce a permanent image on light sensitive metal plates of silver-coated copper. The...