Victorian London - Photography and Optical - Dageurreotype


THE first experiment made in England with the Daguerréotype was exhibited by M. St. Croix, on Friday, September 13, 1839, at No. 7, Piccadilly, nearly opposite the southern Circus of Regent-street; when the picture produced was a beautiful miniature representation of the houses, pathway, sky, &c., resembling an exquisite mezzotint. M. St. Croix subsequently removed to the Argyll Rooms, Regent-street, where his experimental results became a scientific exhibition. One of the earliest operators was Mr. Goddard. The discovery was patented by Mr. Miles Berry, who sold the first licence to M. Claudet for 100l. or 200l. a-year; and in twelve months after disposed of the patent to Dr. Beard, who, however, did not take a Daguerréotype portrait until after Dr. Draper had sent from New York a portrait to the Editor of the Philosophical Magazine, with a paper on the subject.
    With reference to the conditions of a London atmosphere, as regards its influence upon Daguerréotypic or Photographic processes, there are some very peculiar phenomena; for the following details of which we are indebted to Mr. Robert Hunt, F.R.S., the author of many valuable researches in Photography.

The yellow haze which not unfrequently prevails, even when there is no actual fog over the town itself, is fatal to all chemical change. This haze is, without doubt, an accumulation, at a considerable elevation, of the carbonaceous matter from the coal-fires, &c. Although a day may appear moderately clear, if the sun assume a red or orange colour, it will be almost impossible to obtain a good Daguerréotype. Notwithstanding in some of the days of spring our photographers obtain very fine portraits or views, it must be evident to all who examine an extensive series of Daguerréotypes, that those which are obtained in Paris and New York are very much more intense than those which are generally procured in London. This is mainly dependent upon the different amounts and kinds of smoke diffused through the atmospheres respectively of these cities. At the same time, there is no doubt the peculiarly humid character of the English climate interferes with the free passage of those solar rays which are active in producing photographic change. It was observed by Sir John Herschel, when he resided at Slough, that a sudden change of wind to the east almost immediately checked his photographic experiments at that place, by bringing over it the yellow atmosphere of London: this is called by the Berkshire farmers blight, from their imagining that smut and other diseases in grain are produced by it.
    It is a curious circumstance, that the summer months, June, July, and August, notwithstanding the increase of light, are not favourable to the Daguerreotype. This arises from the fact, now clearly demonstrable, that the luminous powers of the sunbeam are in antagonism to the chemical radiations, and as the one increases, the other diminishes. This may be imitated by a pale yellow glass, which, although it obstructs no light completely, cuts off the chemical rays, and entirely prevents any photographic change taking place.

John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867