The Camera and the Press

The Camera and the Press: American Visual and Print Culture in the Age of the Daguerreotype

Marcy J. Dinius
Series: Material Texts
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Camera and the Press
    Book Description:

    Before most Americans ever saw an actual daguerreotype, they encountered this visual form through written descriptions, published and rapidly reprinted in newspapers throughout the land. In The Camera and the Press, Marcy J. Dinius examines how the first written and published responses to the daguerreotype set the terms for how we now understand the representational accuracy and objectivity associated with the photograph, as well as the democratization of portraiture that photography enabled. Dinius's archival research ranges from essays in popular nineteenth-century periodicals to daguerreotypes of Americans, Liberians, slaves, and even fictional characters. Examples of these portraits are among the dozens of illustrations featured in the book. The Camera and the Press presents new dimensions of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables, Herman Melville's Pierre, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Frederick Douglass's The Heroic Slave. Dinius shows how these authors strategically incorporated aspects of daguerreian representation to advance their aesthetic, political, and social agendas. By recognizing print and visual culture as one, Dinius redefines such terms as art, objectivity, sympathy, representation, race, and nationalism and their interrelations in nineteenth-century America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0634-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    In March 1839, Samuel F. B. Morse wrote to Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre with an irresistible proposition: I’ll show you my telegraph if you show me your daguerreotypes. Morse was traveling in Europe to secure patents for and promote his recent invention when Daguerre’s new image-making process was announced in Paris. An accomplished painter as well as an inventor who had experimented unsuccessfully with photochemical imaging in the early 1820s, Morse was especially eager to examine his fellow artist-inventor’s images firsthand and before they were made public.¹ He exploited not only his and Daguerre’s common pursuits but also the ancient correlation of...

  4. Chapter 1 The Daguerreotype in Antebellum American Popular Print
    (pp. 12-48)

    On the front page of the February 23, 1839, Boston Daily Advertiser, a brief article reprinted from Paris’s Journal des Débats appeared under what had become a common headline in an age of concentrated scientific experimentation and innovation: “Remarkable Invention.”¹ The article begins,

    At a session of the Academy of Sciences, held the 8th of January, M. Arago gave an account of a curious invention lately made by M. Daguerre; for making drawings.

    The manner in which the camera obscura produces images of objects, by means of a lens, is well known. The new invention is a method of fixing...

  5. Chapter 2 Daguerreian Romanticism: The House of the Seven Gables and Gabriel Harrison’s Portraits
    (pp. 49-85)

    This chapter focuses on an important story within the story of antebellum Americans’ encounter with the new medium of daguerreotypy as it took shape in a range of popular and professional print publications: that of the emerging epistemic virtue of mechanical objectivity in scientific image making coming into contact with the old aesthetic value of discerning artistry in traces of the artist’s subjectivity. As we have seen, for those charged with describing the new medium (initially, scientists in France, then writers reporting on these first accounts), the scientific ideal of mechanical objectivity appealed because it provided a reason for setting...

  6. Chapter 3 “Some ideal image of the man and his mind”: Melville’s Pierre and Southworth & Hawes’s Daguerreian Aesthetic
    (pp. 86-125)

    Published the year after The House of the Seven Gables, Herman Melville’s Pierre; or, The Ambiguities bears an unmistakable resemblance to Hawthorne’s romance thematically, especially in its preoccupation with portraiture.¹ Yet Melville’s digressive and disjointed narrative reads more like a grotesque caricature than a mirror image of Hawthorne’s House, transforming the tale of an aristocratic family’s decline into one of disgrace and taking the romancer’s creative license to almost unhinged extremes. Their shared concern for issues of identity, authority, and artistic creation comes to a head in Pierre when the title character refuses a publisher’s request that he provide a...

  7. Chapter 4 Slavery in Black and White: Daguerreotypy and Uncle Tom’s Cabin
    (pp. 126-153)

    While Hawthorne and Melville were concerned about the artistic implications of the rise of mechanical objectivity and daguerreian aesthetics, Harriet Beecher Stowe and other writers interested in slavery recognized in popular discussions of objectivity and daguerreian accuracy both artistic and political opportunity. Given the high stakes of debates about race and slavery, the question of representational accuracy took on special urgency in science, politics, and art related to the issues.¹ In this chapter and the two that follow, I examine how daguerreotypy was put to use by writers and daguerreotypists on both sides to mediate these debates. Although my focus...

  8. Chapter 5 “My daguerreotype shall be a true one”: Augustus Washington and the Liberian Colonization Movement
    (pp. 154-191)

    Augustus Washington was one of the relatively few American blacks who not only supported African colonization but actually emigrated from the United States to Liberia.¹ He was also a successful daguerreotypist in Hartford, Connecticut, who imaged black and white sitters alike in his well-appointed rooms. In 1846 or 1847, John Brown was among those who faced Washington’s camera, perhaps because of Washington’s involvement in advocating the rights of blacks or possibly because Brown saw his patronage as a political statement in itself. The sitting produced one of the most iconic images of the anti-slavery movement (Figure 14). Washington was born...

  9. Chapter 6 Seeing a Slave as a Man: Frederick Douglass, Racial Progress, and Daguerreian Portraiture
    (pp. 192-232)

    In the February 12, 1852, issue of Gamaliel Bailey’s National Era, a brief “Anecdote of Daguerre” immediately follows the thirty-fourth installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (the continuation of chapter 32 and all of chapter 33), in which Tom is beaten for refusing to whip a female slave and is ministered to by a faithless Cassy. It reads:

    M. Dumas, a short time since, related the following anecdote of Daguerre.

    In 1825 he was lecturing in the theatre of the Sorbonne, on chemistry. At the close of the lecture, a lady came up to him and said:

    “Monsieur Dumas, as a...

  10. Epilogue. “An Old Daguerreotype”
    (pp. 233-238)

    By the time Frederick Douglass was delivering his lectures on pictures in the early 1860s, daguerreotypy was an outmoded technology. By the end of the century, the once-new medium, its first practitioners, and the subjects in its images had all grown old and become oddities to the always modern eye, as we see in the poem and essay with which I conclude this study. When new media and technologies become old and unfamiliar, just as when they were new and strange, we turn to more familiar media to make sense of them. Thus, this book ends as it began by...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 239-278)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-294)
  13. Index
    (pp. 295-304)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 305-308)