Site Meter Peculiar Susceptibility: Daguerréotypomanie

Sunday, July 1, 2007


When Louis Daguerre announced the invention of the aptly named daguerreotype in January 1839, it quickly became a matter of State in France. Scientists, Artists, Politicians—everyone seemed to have a stake in what photography's uses would be. François Arago, a physicist and member of the French Chamber of Deputies, engineered the purchase of the process by the French government. It fit into his picture of how France could secure world-wide economic supremacy.

Daguerre had become obsessed with capturing the images in camera obscuras. Camera obscuras—in the Latin, "dark chambers"—were mainly used as tools for drawing naturalistically representative images. For this purpose, they usually took their smaller form:

But they also exist as room-sized chambers in which one can sit and watch an image of the world go by:

Daguerre's obsession is an interesting idea, one that strikes me as profoundly sad—fixing moments in time, disallowing their passing.

The beautiful Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art has in it a room sized camera obscura. I was visiting the museum with my friend Mark Williams this winter. We stepped into the room. It takes some time for ones eyes to adjust, but then, there it is, an image of Ridgefield, with its prams and golden retrievers, flags and stonewalls, painted upside down on the wall.

I don't know how to say this. There was something about it. Some kind of convergence of variables—being in this museum, founded in my mother's hometown when she was 14, being in that small space, being somewhat prone to liking camera obscuras over photographs (with which I have a possibly unhealthy obsession anyway)—made me not only certain that when I have my dream house it will have a camera obscura room, but equally certain that I will have lots of sex in it.

There you have it; I fantasized about photography's precursor.

No comments: