Speculating Daguerre: Art and Enterprise in the Work of L. J. M. Daguerre
by Stephen C. Pinson
University of Chicago Press, 2012
Library of Congress Classification TR140.D3P56 2011
Dewey Decimal Classification 779.092
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Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) was a true nineteenth-century visionary—a painter, printmaker, set designer, entrepreneur, inventor, and pioneer of photography. Though he was widely celebrated beyond his own lifetime for his invention of the daguerreotype, it was his origins as a theatrical designer and purveyor of visual entertainment that paved the way for Daguerre’s emergence as one of the world’s most iconic imagemakers.
In Speculating Daguerre, Stephen C. Pinson reinterprets the story of the man and his time, painting a vivid picture of Daguerre as an innovative artist and savvy impresario whose eventual fame as a photographer eclipsed everything that had come before. Drawing upon previously unpublished correspondence and unplumbed archival sources, Pinson mixes biography with an incisive study of Daguerre’s wide-ranging involvement in visual culture. From his work as a commercial lithographer to his coinvention of the Paris Diorama—a theater in the round in which Daguerre employed natural light and special effects to simulate time and movement in large-scale paintings—here we are given access to Daguerre the artist, whose tireless experimentation, entrepreneurial spirit, and exceptional talent for popular spectacle helped to usher in a new visual age.
Filled with more than one hundred illustrations and including the first complete catalogue of Daguerre’s paintings, works on paper, and daguerreotypes to appear in print, the publication of Speculating Daguerre will be a much-heralded event for anyone with even a passing interest in one of the most fascinating characters in the history of photography.
Stephen C. Pinson is the Robert B. Menschel Curator of Photography, as well as the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Assistant Director of Arts, Prints, and Photographs, at the New York Public Library.
“With clarity, concision, and verve, Stephen Pinson has told the fascinating story of Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre—artist, illustrator, inventor of photography, and showman extraordinaire. By situating Daguerre’s invention of the daguerreotype within the broader tradition of the speculative arts, Pinson significantly revises our understanding of both the origins of photography and the rich visual culture of nineteenth-century France.”
“Speculating Daguerre is exceptional—there is simply nothing like it in the literature of photography or of nineteenth-century French art history. It is not a biography of Daguerre, but rather a detailed examination of his artistic output, of his endlessly inventive methods, of his hunger for status, recognition, and monetary success, all set into the context of the crosscurrents of art theory and art criticism of the time. Pinson’s treatment of the daguerreotype calls into question the historian’s division of painting from early photography and will most certainly force a reexamination of that separation by media theorists and historians and critics of visual culture. A stunning, convincing, and entirely novel examination of Daguerre’s work as an artist and inventor.”