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A daguerreotype is a photograph set on a silver-coated copper sheet. This one represents a man, probably Louis Bertrand, lord and notable of Isle-Verte in the 19th century.

After many years of research, Louis Daguerre, a French painter and engraver, invented the daguerreotype in 1839 with the contribution of Nicéphore Niepce. This process, extremely innovative at the time, allows to fix an image without it fading quickly and reduces the time needed to take a photograph.

To make a daguerreotype, a metal plate is first sensitized to light using iodine vapour in a darkroom. Then, this plate is placed in a box and kept in the dark until the picture is taken. When the plate is exposed to light, it records an image that is revealed with mercury and finally fixed with a saline solution.

Given the magnitude of the discovery, the French government bought the patent so that everyone could benefit from it. At first, the daguerreotype was limited to wealthy people, but it gradually became more accessible. The precious pictures are often placed in protective cases to display them. Since they are in black and white, these photographs are often hand-coloured, especially people’s cheeks.

The daguerreotype dominated the market until the early 1850s. Later, the ambrotype (photography on glass) and the ferrotype (photography on iron) are introduced. These photographic processes allowed for the democratization of portraiture, which evolved from painting, drawing and engraving toward more realistic and direct representation.


Date: 1839–1850

Origin: Province of Quebec

Owner: Université du Québec à Rimouski. Maison Louis-Bertrand. L’Isle-Verte.


Daniel, M. (2004). Daguerre (1787–1851) and the invention of photography. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dagu/hd_dagu.htm

Daguerre, L.-J.-M. (1839). Historique et description des procédés du daguerréotype et du diorama [History and description of the processes of the daguerreotype and diorama]. Susse Frères, éditeurs. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b86185127.image

Lavoie, C. (2018, September 26). Les premiers procédés photographiques [The first photographic processes]. Instantanés. https://blogues.banq.qc.ca/instantanes/2018/09/26/les-premiers-procedes-photographiques/

Illustration: Daguerreotype