Louis Daguerre

Dafato Team | Aug 23, 2023

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Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, better known as Louis Daguerre (Cormeilles-en-Parisis, November 18, 1787 - Bry-sur-Marne, July 10, 1851), was the first popularizer of photography, after inventing the daguerreotype, and also worked as a painter and theatrical decorator.

Educated in the bosom of a wealthy family, from his youth he showed a great inclination for the study of letters and arts. Daguerre received a very elementary education, which he completed at the age of fourteen. At this age he had to start earning a living. Of natural intelligence and with an extraordinary facility for drawing, Daguerre was employed as an apprentice architect. There he learned to draw plans and to do perspective drawing. These teachings were of great value for his second occupation, as he began to work as an apprentice to the famous and famous - at that time - stage designer for theater and opera Degoti. He remained in this job for three years before leaving it to become an assistant to the most prominent set designer in Paris at the time, Prevost. In this occupation, Daguerre began to be known for his work, establishing himself among the most important men of the theater.

Daguerre was a second-rate painter in the Paris of the first half of the 19th century. Nevertheless, he achieved one of his most spectacular creations with the diorama "Midnight Mass at Saint-Etienne-du Mont", due to the realism of its perspective.

Louis Daguerre will go down in history for inventing the diorama, an installation that gives a sense of depth to images. This invention aroused the attention of the Parisian public in a show that consisted of creating the illusion that the viewer was in another place through huge images that could move and that were combined with a set of lights and sounds, etc., to make it seem that the viewer was in situations such as a battle, a storm, etc. For all this to be credible, the paintings had to be very realistic and for this reason, Daguerre was interested in applying the principle of the camera obscura to the Diorama.

His installations reached the Paris Opera House and his success was such that he was awarded the Legion of Honor (France).

The diorama was a visual spectacle designed by Daguerre in which images of natural landscapes, chapel interiors or other views were shown by means of elaborate scenographic techniques that included movements such as clouds or a passing sun that changed the tonalities of the landscape. Thus, with plays of light, transparencies, sound effects, elements in relief and other effects, different environments were recreated with great realism.

Daguerre patented his diorama in 1823, a year after launching his first show in Paris, which showed two landscapes recreated in detail in images of 21.3 x 13.7 meters, visible through a frame of 7.3 x 6.4 meters at a distance of 12 meters from the spectator. This show, which has been successful for almost twenty years, was presented in a building specially created for the occasion, with a box seating more than 300 spectators. The audience area consisted of seats on a rotating platform which, after viewing the first image, rotated towards the second. The invention, as with his Daguerreotype (based on Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's invention), was not really his own, but he was able to see the desires of a public that was already beginning to demand such spectacles, which had been performed before, although on a smaller scale, by other scenic designers such as Philippe-Jacques Loutherbourg (1740-1812) with his "Eidophusikon" or Franz Niklas König (1765-1832) with his "Diaphanorama".

List of dioramas

Currently, a diorama is a three-dimensional model of a landscape showing historical events, nature, cities, etc., used for education or entertainment, made with three-dimensional materials or elements that make up a real-life scene. They are placed in front of a curved background, painted in such a way as to simulate a real environment and the scene is completed with lighting effects. Animals, plants, battles, landscapes, etc. can be represented.

His second invention was the daguerreotype, the first photographic process made public in Paris in 1839.


Daguerre followed with great interest the discoveries that were being made about photography at that time. He used the camera obscura to make models of his vast compositions, and he began to work seriously on reproducing his works. He made some tests with phosphorescent substances, but the image was fleeting and visible only in the dark. Daguerre worked several times with the optician Charles Chevalier who put him in contact with Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, when he learned about the experiments he was doing on the fixation of images in the camera obscura.

On December 5, 1829, they signed a partnership contract, in which Daguerre acknowledged that Niepce "had found a new procedure to fix, without resorting to drawing, the views offered by nature". Daguerre and Niepce worked together for several days. Each informed the other about his work, sometimes with suspicion, sometimes with more spontaneity. They worked with sensitive silver, copper and glass plates. They made use of vapors to blacken the image.

Without seeing each other again, when Niépce died in 1833, Daguerre continued his research. Later, in 1835, he made an important discovery by accident. He put an exposed plate in his chemical cabinet and found after a few days that it had become a latent image, due to the effects of mercury evaporating and acting as a developer.

Daguerre perfected the daguerreotype until 1838. The daguerreotype did not allow copies to be made, since it is a single positive image. In addition, exposure times were long and the mercury vapor was toxic to health.

Niépce's death

In 1833 Joseph Niépce died without the invention being made public and two years later, in 1835, Daguerre took advantage of Joseph Niépce's son Isidore's financial problems to modify the contract signed, which meant that Daguerre's name would appear before Niépce's name, in exchange for the father's financial rights to be given to his son Isidore.

In the same year, a third modification of the contract was made, which led to the disappearance of Niépce's name and the process was renamed "Daguerreotype". A few years later, in 1838, Louis Daguerre took on the Boulevard du Temple the first photograph showing a person.

Daguerre perfected the photographic process tested by Niépce. He used silvered copper plates sensitized in iodine vapors. He obtained good prints from mercury vapors. And he fixed the images in very hot salt water. These were Daguerre's three great innovations. As a result, he obtained very sharp images of permanent quality.


Quickly 500,000 daguerreotypes were made in the city of Paris in one year. Daguerre, with the help of his brother-in-law, managed to bring to market the camera called Daguerrotype, which was numbered and bore Daguerre's signature. The manual explaining the daguerreotype procedure was translated into the main languages.

The first people photographed

In 1838 what is believed to be the first photograph of living people was taken. The image shows a busy street (the Boulevard du Temple in Paris). However, due to the long exposure time to impress the image-about fifteen minutes during the hours of maximum irradiation-no traffic or other passersby appear, as they are moving too fast. The only exceptions are a man and a little boy cleaning his boots, who remained in the same position during the time it took to expose the daguerreotype. According to the research of historian Shelley Rice, the bootblack and his client are actors placed there by Daguerre, who had previously taken another photograph of the same place, noting the inability of the photographic technique of the time to record the intense human activity of that place.

Public presentation of the invention

On January 7, 1839, at the Academy of Sciences in Paris, he publicly presented the invention. Subsequently, the French State bought the invention for an annual annuity of 6000 francs for Daguerre and 4000 francs for Joseph Niépce's son, in order to make the invention available to the public, which allowed the use of the daguerreotype to spread all over Europe and the United States.

Advantages of the daguerreotype

With Daguerre's contribution, the time needed to take images was reduced to between five and forty minutes, compared to the two hours needed with Niépce's procedure, which was a huge leap in fifteen years.

From this moment on, Daguerre began to work on improving the chemical process with the use of silver iodide and mercury vapor, as well as with the dissolution of the residual iodide in a hot solution based on common salt.

From this same year is the oldest known daguerreotype. Under the name of Composition we find a still life of various objects that presents a more volumetric image, with greater depth and better reliefs.

During the years 1838 and 1839 he devoted himself to promoting the invention by various means, such as his attempt to create an operating company by public subscription, which failed, or the operations of taking pictures of the invention in the streets of Paris. Thanks to his actions he managed to contact François Aragó, scientist and liberal politician, who in 1839 publicly presented the invention before the French Academy of Sciences.

Daguerre achieved unanimous recognition all over the world, receiving appointments from foreign academies and French and foreign decorations, hiding the real achievements of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce as the predecessor of his research. Little by little the truth became known and finally Niépce's contributions were recognized.

Until the date of his death on July 10, 1851, in Bry sur Marne, he devoted himself to the mass production of photographic equipment, together with his brother-in-law Giroux, and to the organization of public demonstrations of the invention.


  1. Louis Daguerre
  2. Louis Daguerre
  3. ^ "The First Photograph — Heliography". Archived from the original on 6 October 2009. Retrieved 29 September 2009. from Helmut Gernsheim's article, "The 150th Anniversary of Photography," in History of Photography, Vol. I, No. 1, January 1977: ... In 1822, Niépce coated a glass plate ... The sunlight passing through ... This first permanent example ... was destroyed ... some years later.
  4. ^ Stokstad, Marilyn; David Cateforis; Stephen Addiss (2005). Art History (Second ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education. pp. 964–967. ISBN 0-13-145527-3.
  5. Rice, Shelley (1999) Parisian Views. MIT Press. USA.
  6. Carl Gustav Carus: Das Diorama von Daguerre in Paris, abgerufen am 4. September 1835 auf books.google.com
  7. BNF 12015773
  8. D'origine basque, Daguerre est la forme francisée du nom basque Aguirre
  9. Archives de Paris. État civil reconstitué.
  10. Registre paroissial de la paroisse Saint-Martin de Cormeilles-en-Parisis, années 1787, Archives départementales du Val-d'Oise.

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