Poe und die Fotografie

The Daguerreotype

by Edgar Allan Poe*

This word is pro­per­ly spelt Daguer­ré­o­ty­pe, and pro­no­un­ced as if writ­ten “Dagair­raio­teep”. The inventor’s name is Daguer­re, but the French usa­ge requi­res an accent on the second e, in the for­ma­ti­on of the com­pound term.

The instru­ment its­elf must undoub­ted­ly be regard­ed as the most important, and per­haps the most extra­or­di­na­ry tri­umph of modern sci­ence. We have not now space to touch upon the histo­ry of the inven­ti­on, the ear­liest idea of which is deri­ved from the came­ra obscu­re, and even the minu­te details of the pro­cess of pho­to­ge­ny (from Greek words signi­fy­ing sun-pain­ting) are too long for our pre­sent purpose.

Edgar Allan Poe

Er war ein Dich­ter, der gleich nach der Erfin­dung der neu­en Tech­no­lo­gie ver­stand, welch’ schier unend­li­che Mög­lich­kei­ten sich mit dem neu­en Medi­um der Foto­gra­fie verbanden.

We may say in brief, howe­ver, that a pla­te of sil­ver upon cop­per is pre­pared, pre­sen­ting a sur­face for the action of the light, of the most deli­ca­te tex­tu­re con­ceiva­ble. A high polish being given this pla­te by means of a steati­tic cal­care­ous stone (cal­led Daguer­reo­li­te) and con­tai­ning equal parts of stea­ti­te and car­bo­na­te of lime, the fine sur­face is then iod­i­zed by being pla­ced over a ves­sel con­tai­ning iod­i­ne, until the who­le assu­mes a tint of pale yellow.

The pla­te is then depo­si­ted in a came­ra obscu­re, and the lens of this instru­ment direc­ted to the object which it is requi­red to paint. The action of the light does the rest. The length of time requi­si­te for the ope­ra­ti­on varies accor­ding to the hour of the day, and the sta­te of the weather–the gene­ral peri­od being from ten to thir­ty minutes–experience alo­ne sug­gest­ing the pro­per moment of rem­oval. When taken out, the pla­te does not at first appear to have recei­ved a defi­ni­te impression–some short pro­ces­ses, howe­ver, deve­lop it in the most mira­cu­lous beauty.

“The action of the light does the rest.”

All lan­guage must fall short of con­vey­ing any just idea of the truth, and this will not appear so won­derful when we reflect that the source of visi­on its­elf has been, in this ins­tance, the desi­gner. Per­haps, if we ima­gi­ne the distinct­ness with which an object is reflec­ted in a posi­tively per­fect mir­ror, we come as near the rea­li­ty as by any other means. For, in truth, the Daguer­reo­ty­ped pla­te is infi­ni­te­ly (we use the term advi­sedly) is infi­ni­te­ly more accu­ra­te in its repre­sen­ta­ti­on than any pain­ting by human hands.

If we exami­ne a work of ordi­na­ry art, by means of a powerful micro­scope, all traces of resem­blan­ce to natu­re will dis­ap­pear – but the clo­sest scru­ti­ny of the pho­to­ge­nic dra­wing dis­c­lo­ses only a more abso­lu­te truth, a more per­fect iden­ti­ty of aspect with the thing rep resen­ted. The varia­ti­ons of sha­de, and the gra­da­ti­ons of both line­ar and aeri­al per­spec­ti­ve are tho­se of truth its­elf in the supre­men­ess of its perfection.

The results of the inven­ti­on can­not, even remo­te­ly, be seen – but all expe­ri­ence, in mat­ters of phi­lo­so­phi­cal dis­co­very, tea­ches us that, in such dis­co­very, it is the unfo­re­seen upon which we must cal­cu­la­te most lar­ge­ly. It is a theo­rem almost demons­tra­ted, that the con­se­quen­ces of any new sci­en­ti­fic inven­ti­on will, at the pre­sent day exceed, by very much, the wil­dest expec­ta­ti­ons of the most ima­gi­na­ti­ve. Among the obvious advan­ta­ges deriva­ble from the Daguer­reo­ty­pe, we may men­ti­on that, by its aid, the height of inac­ces­si­ble ele­va­tions may in many cases be imme­dia­te­ly ascer­tai­ned, sin­ce it will afford an abso­lu­te per­spec­ti­ve of objects in such situa­tions, and that the dra­wing of a cor­rect lunar chart will be at once accom­plished, sin­ce the rays of this lumi­na­ry are found to be app­re­cia­ted by the plate.

* From Edgar Allan Poe in Alexander’s Weekly Mes­sen­ger (15 Janu­ary 1840) pg. 2. Cited from Brig­ham, Cla­rence S., Edgar Allan Poe’s Con­tri­bu­ti­ons to Alexander’s Weekly Mes­sen­ger (Worces­ter: Ame­ri­can Anti­qua­ri­an Socie­ty, 1943) pp. 20–22.

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