A rarely discussed aspect of the first two decades of photography is the use of daguerreotype plates as the basis for creating multiple copies of an image. Consisting of a metal plate supporting a physical image on its surface, the daguerreotype is – in principle – similar to traditional intaglio and relief printing plates, of which the surface topography determines what the printed image will look like. This fundamental likeness was quickly recognized by early photographic pioneers, and in the 1840s and 50s, all over Europe (and possibly even in the USA) daguerreotypes were being etched in acid to create intaglio plates for printing.
Alphonse Poitevin developed yet other methods of printing daguerreotypes, involving image transfer and gelatin reliefs. Finally, the invention of electrotyping, at the same time as the daguerreotype, enabled the production of direct copies of daguerreotypes in copper. These techniques breach the common understanding of the daguerreotype as a unique object, They mark decisive moments in photography’s early role in printing and therefore deserve both in-depth art-historical as well as art-technological study.
Martin Jürgens has an MS from Rochester Institute of Technology and an MA in Conservation from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. He is currently Photographs Conservator at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His research, publishing and teaching have covered historic and contemporary photography and digital printing. His book “The Digital Print” was published by the Getty Conservation Institute in 2009.
Presented on March 13, 2021.