26 Sep The Beginning of Photography: The Drama of 1839

Source: DP Review

The drama of ‘39 ‘The Open Door’ William Henry Fox Talbot. About 1843. Print from paper negative.

On January 6, 1839, François Arago, Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences, announced Daguerre’s invention and spoke of his accomplishment publicly, although he said nothing of the specific methods involved.

By the middle of January, news of Daguerre’s invention had spread everywhere. Today, when imaging is so common and taken for granted, it’s hard to imagine how amazing the idea of taking a picture was in 1839. It created immediate headlines around the world.

Francois Arago painted by Charles Steuben, 1832.

The actual techniques used remained secret, however, since the French government had not yet officially bought the invention from Daguerre. The secrecy led to some suspicion that this was a trick or fake, and just like today, a few people ‘proved’ it was impossible. Most believed, though. This was an era when revolutionary new technology became available almost every year.

Who is this Arago of whom you speak?

For we photography types, Dominique François Jean Arago is just the guy who announced Daguerre’s invention, but in fact he was way more than that. He was born in a tiny village, graduated from a small college in 30 months, passed the examinations to enter the Ecole Polytechnique, got bored there, and went to work at the Paris Observatory. In 1806 he led an expedition to measure the

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