Jonathan A Lewis Photography

Aug 19

169 Years and Counting

Category: History

On August 19, 1839, 7 months after the announcement of Daguerre’s process, the French government purchased his patent and revealed the daguerreotype process to the world!!! Well something like that anyway. I probably would have missed it if it weren’t for Jonathan Danforth posting a blurb about it on his site. Though it really is an important day as it represents the transition of photography from a vague curiosity to a serious medium with social, artistic, and commercial implications across the globe.

Wired has also run three article about this day and the daguerreotype!

Aug. 19, 1839: Photography Goes Open Source
Daguerre to Be Different!
Make a Daguerreotype

Happy daguerreotyping!
Jon Lewis

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Jul 25


Category: Books,Daguerreotypy

A lot has happened since my last post. Unfortunately nothing photographically related has really happened. I moved to a new abode that’s a bit closer to my work. Now I can walk to work and save on gas and get exercise and all that good stuff. It’s also nice to take a camera a long and shoot as I go.

Anyway, to the real stuff.

Earlier this week I got the first two volumes of the History of Photography journal consisting of 8 issues from 1977 and 1978. I got the set because it contains an article that was mentioned in the DagForum and I wanted to check it out. The article is The Daguerreotype in America and England after 1860 by Grant B. Romer. As the title indicates, it traces the practice of daguerreotypy from the demise of its popularity though to the present day (well, the mid 1970s). I have read here and there that “since its creation, the daguerreotype has always had practitioners somewhere” but I guess it really never soaked in. I really believed that the daguerreotype had completely died out in the mid 1860s until the likes of Romer and Pobboravsky revived it in the 1970s. This article describes how there was always someone, somewhere, fascinated and dedicated enough to pursue the medium. Like Houdini, no matter how hidden it may be, it was alway somewhere…

I particularly like this quote and even though it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of my post. Although it refers to the end of the daguerreian era, I think this it holds true in the new digital age as well:

As Marcus Aurelius Root, the early champion of photograph as a fine art, sorrowfully observed:

‘… the majority of heliographers have adopted the vocation from motives purely mercenary. That is, the desire and the hope of making money more rapidly, and of avoiding manual labor….’


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Jul 3

Books of Photography

Category: Books,Daguerreotypy

I like books. If the books have to do with photography or photochemistry then I like them doubly so. In my quest of becoming a daguerreotypist I have been searching high and low for books to do with daguerreotypes. I’ve mostly been looking for books on the daguerreotype process but occasionally I spring for a book on history or one with pretty pictures. Two books I have been completely unable to locate for my library are: Irving Pobboravsky’s A Study of Iodized Daguerreotype Plates (1971) and Ken Nelson’s A Practical Introduction to the Art of Daguerreotypy in the 20th Century (1977). These two books are much more recent than the mid 19th century titles I’ve been looking for but they’re much more scarce for some reason. Fortunately, I work for an institution with a library. I explained my woes to the librarian and she generously interlibrary loaned them for me. The first, Pobboravsky’s book, arrived today and I’m very excited to read it and take an absurd amount of notes before it has to be returned. Nelson’s book will arrive next week some time. If anyone has a copy of either one of these books that’s just taking up space or sitting under the short leg of their wobbly work bench let me know.

Another set of books that arrived today is The Book of Photography: Practical, Theoretic, and Applied, Vols. 1 & 2, edited by Paul N. Hasluck and published in 1905. This is a beautiful pair of leather bound books with gilded lettering and marbling. There is an absurd amount of information in these books but it is all information from the early 20th century. About the daguerreotype it has this:

Daguerreotype — An early process of photography in which the picture was obtained on a highly polished silver plate.

Although it does have a paragraph about Daguerre and Niepce in the section on history, it’s amazing how quickly the process itself really disappeared. I thought the mere 4 pages devoted to the process in The Silver Sunbeam was short, this description is less than 20 words!

I didn’t get these books for the daguerreian information. I got them for all the other information on principle that the more photographic knowledge I have, the better informed my photographs will (might) be. They contain information (as does The Silver Sunbeam) about two processes I’m very interested in besides the daguerreotype: they cyanotype and uranotype. It also has a great deal of information on the collodion processes which I’d like to try my hand at one of these days… after I start daguerreotyping.

Book of Photography

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Jul 1

The Met, Bisbee, and the Quest for Rubylith

Category: Books,Daguerreotypy

This past weekend I took a quick trip to New York. While I was there I happened to see Framing a Century: Master Photographers, 1840–1940, a special exhibition at The Met. While it was a fascinating show and I saw lots of beautiful albumen and salted paper prints, there was an unfortunate lack of daguerreotypes. Perhaps I missed them or they were in another room but I was a little disappointed…

On the plane I managed to finish reading A. Bisbee’s The History and Practice of Daguerreotyping (1853). It’s a short book of a little over 100 pages that contains Bisbee’s methods and opinions of the daguerreotype process as well as a couple short essays on heliochromy (naturally colored daguerreotypes) and the collodion process (wet plate, ambrotype, tintype, etc.). He is much more succinct (and opinionated) in his description of the process than Humphrey. It might be easier for someone starting out to read this work before embarking on Humphrey’s hand book. The history component is interesting but I don’t think it’s all that accurate, though I’m no authority. It does, however, say that the ‘lavender’ light I found so funny was termed by Sir John Herschel (p. 23).

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been on the quest for rubylith. I figured I could just pick some up in town but that was unfortunately not the case. A couple of the people I asked said ‘what in the world to you need that old stuff for?!?’ and one person got all teary-eyed and nostalgic over their long lost rubylith days. I finally resorted to buying a roll off ebay. So if anyone needs rubylith, I’ll have plenty soon.

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Jun 25

Mr. Humphrey and the Silver Sunbeam

Category: Books,Daguerreotypy

I have just finished S. D. Humphrey’s American Hand Book of the Daguerreotype (1858) (available for free from Project Gutenberg). As everyone knows and states quite often: this book is utterly devoid of safety. On page 81, Humphrey states (with one of the few cautionary asides):

If by accident (we would not advise a trial to any extent of this), you should inhale a quantity of the vapor of bromine, immediately inhale the vapor of aqua ammonia, as this neutralizes the dangers effects of the bromine vapor.

Now admittedly I’m not medically or chemically savvy enough to say with any authority whether this method would work; to me it just sounds like a bad idea.

Once you get past the lack of safety and, really, the lack of knowledge that a lot of the chemicals were actually dangerous, the book is a must read. A must read for daguerreotypists anyway. Even though a lot of the procedures he uses can be replaced with mechanical means or require extra considerations of safety, there is a pile of information that allows one to fine tune and troubleshoot the process as well as whet their appetite for experimentation. Once I start using mercury development it would be great to try some of the formulas he describes for preparing the ‘quick’.

There is also a chapter on light and optics. The mid 1800s concept of light is more limited from ours now but it’s fascinating to read their perspective. They knew that daguerreotypes were sensitive to blue light and a light beyond the blue which they called lavender. For some reason (perhaps it’s the physicist in me) I found this endlessly funny! Lavender light!?! Now I’m sure the information was dumbed down quite a bit for the audience but still, I found it funny.

Anyway, the book has a lot of interesting insights and ideas. It is worth the read or even just to have around as a reference. This book probably contains most of the final ‘best practices’ of the art before it rapidly went into decline in the 1860s. In a book I recently picked up, J. Towler’s The Silver Sunbeam (1864), the daguerreotype process is confined to a mere 4 pages out of the 330+ pages describing photographic processes. Only 6 years after Humphrey’s hand book and the daguerreotype process is barely more than a footnote. However, it does have this to say about the process (p.268):

The Daguerreotype
A photograph on a silver or silvered plate is superior in definition and beauty to all other photographs taken on other materials.

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Jun 22

Fuming Box, check.

I have finished building my fuming box! It’s certainly not pretty but I think it’ll work well. I made two tops for it: one for 2 1/4″ square plates and the other for quarter plates. I have a medium format camera and a 4×5 press camera so I should be able to shoot both of those plate sizes.

Fuming Box
Fuming Box

I learned a lot building this box and I’m looking forward to tackling the other pieces in the daguerreian puzzle. Perhaps the fume hood will be next.

As of now, here is a list if things I have for making daguerreotypes:


  • Iodine Crystals (from Photographers’ Formulary)
  • Sodium Thiosulfate (from Bostick & Sullivan)
  • Sodium Sulfite (from Bostick & Sullivan)
  • 0.2% Gold Chloride Solution (from Bostick & Sullivan)


  • Dedicated “Dag Back” for my medium format camera (from KEH)
  • Fuming Box!! (from my own hands)

Other Supplies

  • 2 3/8″ Square .999 Silver Plates (from Santa Fe Jewelers Supply)
  • Filmoplast P90 (from Talas)

As far as I can tell, I still have the following left to get:

  • Rubylith
  • Buffing Wheels
  • Buffing Compound
  • Small Trays
  • Gilding Stand
  • Gilding Lamp/Torch
  • Small Fume Hood
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Jun 21

The Beginning

Category: Miscellaneous

Recently I created a forum for daguerreotypists in a collaborative effort with Alan Bekhuis and Though I also realized I needed a place of my own. So with that in mind and inspiration from Andy Stockton and Jonathan Danforth I have decided to create my own blog. The purpose of this blog is to keep me focused and organized on my photography and specifically my budding daguerreotypy. More importantly I hope to inspire others in their own photographic adventures.

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