History and Practice of the Art of Photography Part 1


History and Practice of the Art of Photography

History and Practice of the Art of Photography Part 1

The History and Practice of the Art of Photography.

by Henry H. Snelling.


The object of this little work is to fill a void much complained of by Daguerreotypists--particularly young beginners.

The author has waited a long time in hopes that some more able pen would be devoted to the subject, but the wants of the numerous, and constantly increasing, cla.s.s, just mentioned, induces him to wait no longer.

All the English works on the subject--particularly on the practical application, of Photogenic drawing--are deficient in many minute details, which are essential to a complete understanding of the art.

Many of their methods of operating are entirely different from, and much inferior to, those practised in the United States: their apparatus, also, cannot compare with ours for completeness, utility or simplicity.

I shall, therefore, confine myself princ.i.p.ally--so far as Photogenic drawing upon metalic plates is concerned--to the methods practised by the most celebrated and experienced operators, drawing upon French and English authority only in cases where I find it essential to the purpose for which I design my work, namely: furnishing a complete system of Photography; such an one as will enable any gentleman, or lady, who may wish to practise the art, for profit or amus.e.m.e.nt, to do so without the trouble and expense of seeking instruction from professors, which in many cases within my own knowledge has prevented persons from embracing the profession.

To English authors I am princ.i.p.ally indebted for that portion of my work relating to Photogenic drawing on paper. To them we owe nearly all the most important improvements in that branch of the art.

Besides, it has been but seldom attempted in the United States, and then without any decided success. Of these attempts I shall speak further in the Historical portion of this volume.

Every thing essential, therefore, to a complete knowledge of the whole art, comprising all the most recent discoveries and improvements down to the day of publication will be found herein laid down.


New York, January 27, 1849.


Dear Sir,--In submitting the accompanying "History and Practice of Photography" to your perusal, and for your approbation, I do so with the utmost confidence in your ability as a practical man, long engaged in the science of which it treats, as well as your knowledge of the sciences generally; as well as your regard for candor. To you, therefore, I leave the decision whether or no I have accomplished my purpose, and produced a work which may not only be of practical benefit to the Daguerrean artist, but of general interest to the reading public, and your decision will influence me in offering it for, or withholding it from, publication.

If it meets your approbation, I would most respectfully ask permission to dedicate it to you, subscribing myself,

With esteem, Ever truly yours, HENRY H. SNELLING

New York, February 1st, 1849.


Dear Sir--Your note of January 27th, requesting permission to dedicate to me your "History and Practice of Photography," I esteem a high compliment, particularly since I have read the ma.n.u.script of your work.

Such a treatise has long been needed, and the manner in which you have handled the subject will make the book as interesting to the reading public as it is valuable to the Daguerrean artist, or the amateur dabbler in Photography. I have read nearly all of the many works upon this art that have emanated from the London and Paris presses, and I think the reader will find in yours the pith of them all, with much practical and useful information that I do not remember to have seen communicated elsewhere.

There is much in it to arouse the reflective and inventive faculties of our Daguerreotypists. They have heretofore stumbled along with very little knowledge of the true theory of their art, and yet the quality of their productions is far in advance of those of the French and English artists, most of whose establishments I have had the pleasure of visiting I feel therefore, that when a sufficient amount of theoretic knowledge shall have been added to this practical skill on the part of our operators, and when they shall have been made fully acquainted with what has been attained or attempted by others, a still greater advance in the art will be manifested.

A GOOD Daguerreotypist is by no means a mere machine following a certain set of fixed rules. Success in this art requires personal skill and artistic taste to a much greater degree than the unthinking public generally imagine; in fact more than is imagined by nine-tenths of the Daguerreotypists themselves. And we see as a natural result, that while the business numbers its thousands of votaries, but few rise to any degree of eminence. It is because they look upon their business as a mere mechanical operation, and having no aim or pride beyond the earning of their daily bread, they calculate what will be a fair per centage on the cost of their plate, case, and chemicals, leaving MIND, which is as much CAPITAL as anything else (where it is exercised,) entirely out of the question.

The art of taking photographs on PAPER, of which your work treats at considerable length, has as yet attracted but little attention in this country, though destined, as I fully believe, to attain an importance far superior to that to which the Daguerreotype has risen.

The American mind needs a waking up upon the subject, and I think your book will give a powerful impulse in this direction. In Germany a high degree of perfection has been reached, and I hope your countrymen will not be slow to follow.

Your interesting account of the experiments of Mr. Wattles was entirely new to me, and is another among the many evidences that when the age is fully ripe for any great discovery, it is rare that it does not occur to more than a single mind.

Trusting that your work will meet with the encouragement which your trouble in preparing it deserves, and with grat.i.tude for the undeserved compliment paid to me in its dedication,

I remain, very sincerely, Your friend and well wisher, E. ANTHONY.




As in all cases of great and valuable inventions in science and art the English lay claim to the honor of having first discovered that of Photogenic drawing. But we shall see in the progress of this history, that like many other a.s.sumptions of their authors, priority in this is no more due them, then the invention of steamboats, or the cotton gin.

This claim is founded upon the fact that in 1802 Mr. Wedgwood recorded an experiment in the Journal of the Royal Inst.i.tution of the following nature.

"A piece of paper, or other convenient material, was placed upon a frame and sponged over with a solution of nitrate of silver; it was then placed behind a painting on gla.s.s and the light traversing the painting produced a kind of copy upon the prepared paper, those parts in which the rays were least intercepted being of the darkest hues.

Here, however, terminated the experiment; for although both Mr.

Wedgwood and Sir Humphry Davey experimented carefully, for the purpose of endeavoring to fix the drawings thus obtained, yet the object could not be accomplished, and the whole ended in failure."

This, by their own showing, was the earliest attempt of the English savans. But this much of the principle was known to the Alchemists at an early date--although practically produced in another way--as the following experiment, to be found in old books, amply proves.

"Dissolve chalk in aquafortis to the consistence of milk, and add to it a strong solution of silver; keep this liquor in a gla.s.s bottle well stopped; then cutting out from a piece of paper the letters you would have appear, paste it on the decanter, and lay it in the sun's rays in such a manner that the rays may pa.s.s through the s.p.a.ces cut out of the paper and fall on the surface of the liquor the part of the gla.s.s through which the rays pa.s.s will be turned black, while that under the paper remains white; but particular care must be observed that the bottle be not moved during the operation."

Had not the alchemists been so intent upon the desire to discover the far famed philosopher's stone, as to make them unmindful of the accidental dawnings of more valuable discoveries, this little experiment in chemistry might have induced them to prosecute a more thorough search into the principle, and Photogenic art would not now, as it is, be a new one.

It is even a.s.serted that the Jugglers of India were for many ages in possession of a secret by which they were enabled, in a brief s.p.a.ce, to copy the likeness of any individual by the action of light. This fact, if fact it be, may account for the celebrated magic mirrors said to be possessed by these jugglers, and probable cause of their power over the people.

However, as early as 1556 the fact was established that a combination of chloride and silver, called, from its appearance, horn silver, was blackened by the sun's rays; and in the latter part of the last century Mrs. Fulhame published an experiment by which a change of color was effected in the chloride of gold by the agency of light; and gave it as her opinion that words might be written in this way. These incidents are considered as the first steps towards the discovery of the Photogenic art.

Mr. Wedgwood's experiments can scarcely be said to be any improvement on them since he failed to bring them to practical usefulness, and his countrymen will have to be satisfied with awarding the honor of its complete adaptation to practical purposes, to MM. Niepce and Daguerre of France, and to Professors Draper, and Morse of New-York.

These gentlemen--MM. Niepce and Daguerre--pursued the subject simultaneously, without either, however being aware of the experiments of his colleague in science. For several years, each pursued his researches individually until chance made them acquainted, when they entered into co-partnership, and conjointly brought the art almost to perfection.

M. Niepce presented his first paper on the subject to the Royal Society in 1827, naming his discovery Heliography. What led him to the study of the principles of the art I have no means, at present, of knowing, but it was probably owing to the facts recorded by the Alchemists, Mrs.

Fulhame and others, already mentioned. But M. Daguerre, who is a celebrated dioramic painter, being desirous of employing some of the singularly changeable salts of silver to produce a peculiar cla.s.s of effects in his paintings, was led to pursue an investigation which resulted in the discovery of the Daguerreotype, or Photogenic drawing on plates of copper coated with silver.

To this gentleman--to his liberality--are we Americans indebted for the free use of his invention; and the large and increasing cla.s.s of Daguerrean artists of this country should hold him in the most profound respect for it. He was not willing that it should be confined to a few individuals who might monopolise the benefits to be derived from its practice, and shut out all chance of improvement. Like a true, n.o.ble hearted French gentleman he desired that his invention should spread freely throughout the whole world. With these views he opened negociations with the French government which were concluded most favorably to both the inventors, and France has the "glory of endowing the whole world of science and art with one of the most surprising discoveries that honor the land."

Notwithstanding this, it has been patented in England and the result is what might have been expected: English pictures are far below the standard of excellence of those taken by American artists. I have seen some medium portraits, for which a guinea each had been paid, and taken too, by a celebrated artist, that our poorest Daguerreotypists would be ashamed to show to a second person, much less suffer to leave their rooms.

CALOTYPE, the name given to one of the methods of Photogenic drawing on paper, discovered, and perfected by Mr. Fox Talbot of England, is precisely in the same predicament, not only in that country but in the United States, Mr. Talbot being patentee in both. He is a man of some wealth, I believe, but he demands so high a price for a single right in this country, that none can be found who have the temerity to purchase.

The execution of his pictures is also inferior to those taken by the German artists, and I would remark en pa.s.sant, that the Messrs. Mead exhibited at the last fair of the American Inst.i.tute, (of 1848,) four Calotypes, which one of the firm brought from Germany last Spring, that for beauty, depth of tone and excellence of execution surpa.s.s the finest steel engraving.

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