By Eugene Struthers
Masters of Photography
Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre 1787 - 1851
A theatre set painter by trade, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre from 1807 to 1814 worked as an assistant for Pierre Prevost a painter who painted panoramic set pictures of Paris. Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre spent a further four years gaining valuable experience as a painter of sets for the L'Ambigu-Comique and the opera. Whilst working for Pierre Prevost's theatre of comical ambiguities, the stage for a play called the Vampire used Daguerre's set. The sets were so impressive and candid, and Daguerre became an overnight success and was flooded with commissions for more work. Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre gained the reputation as a great set designer and his most modest designs had the ability to rescue a potential flop. In 1820 Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre however dreamed of establishing his own business, but it was only until two years later that he was able to display his Diorama to an eager Paris public. It was an overnight success and breath-taking in its realism. The painted landscape of Mount Vesuvius spouted fire and smoke, and the dark ruins of an old abbey gave off the haunted appearance of realistic spirits. To the general public, it was never boring.
As the Diorama was a result of an ingenious lighting system with several translucent paintings placed one behind one another and then lit consecutively. Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre used the camera obscura to produce sketches for a huge set to an exact scale.Once Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre heard of Joseph Nice'phore Niepce experiments at Chevalier's (a popular Paris optician) which held regular meetings for wealthy dilettante inventors. Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre was immediately captivated and interested in forming a partnership with Joseph Nice'phore Niepce. At first, Joseph Nice'phore Niepce dismissed Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, and wouldn't even meet with him to discuss working in partnership together. It was only when his brother Claude fell seriously ill, then Joseph Nice'phore Niepce decided to meet with the then famous Jacques Mande Daguerre. Joseph Nice'phore Niepce was immediately captivated by Jacques Mande Daguerre flare and detail. In a contract, the two decided to split the profits evenly. In 1835 Daguerre decided to use mercury vapours as a method to developing a latent image. But according to Czech historian Rudolf Skopec, he deduced that Daguerre had probably stumbled upon the discovery whilst trying to amalgamate his plates to improve the gloss and a previously exposed image was accidentally developed. But in 1831 Daguerre had already experimented with iodine vapours forming a thin film layer of light-sensitive silver iodide. But the final results took four years for an acceptable light produced images on an iodized silver plate to be achieved.
The improved sensitivity of the plates reduced the reduction of the exposure time and eliminated the time process for exposure used by Niepce. But frustrated by an existing problem, Daguerre knew that he would have to resolve the issue with the iodized silver plate method, the images were not permanent and disappeared as soon as they were developed. Later in 1837, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre discovered the second fundamental ingredient to the process, that the image could only be partially fixed with a solution of common salt. The first fixative, which would be necessary for the future practicability of the process had been discovered by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre. Daguerre had found a practical procedure by which exposure, fixing and development could produce an original positive image but which could not be replicated. This process was called the Daguerreotype, but like Niepce, he failed to make the process a successful venture.
Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre only became successful after he asked the eminent astronomer and physicist Arago for assistance. On the 7th of January 1839, Arago informed the French Academie des Sciences about Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre process. Although he didn't mention too much information about its details, the process captivated the morning headlines across the world. King Louis Philippe on June 15, 1839, signed a statute entitling Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre to an annuity of 6,000 francs. Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre was decorated with the Legion of Honour. On the 19th of August 1839, the process was made public at a ceremonial session of the Academie and the process was made the property of the state of the French government. Who in turn made the daguerreotype freely available to everyone.