Louis Daguerre (1787-1851) was first known as a painter and successful theatre decorator during the first third of the 19th Century.
After exhibiting his paintings at the Paris Salon in 1814 he created the incredible Diorama show eight years later.
The Diorama was truly his invention with spectacular optical and even sound effects over huge painted canvasses which visitors admired crowding in a gigantic exhibition room on the Grand Boulevards in Paris.
With the Diorama Daguerre established himself as a pioneer of what was to become the movie industry 70 years later.
Viewers were placed in front of very large realistic scenes painted over canvasses, each measuring 20 x 14 metre and carrying two pictures on both sides.
Using lighting effects, Daguerre transformed scenes at will and created a truly magical world.
Meeting considerable success the Diorama exhibition lasted 17 years after Daguerre constantly developed his show with new effects but he progressively
became obsessed with the use of the camera obscura and went on to carry out scientific researches. One should note that the camera obscura, a simple chamber with a hole to view a scene in its right proportions had been invented even before the Renaissance period. Many artists then used it, notably Vermeer of Delft while scientists tried at the beginning of the 19th Century to project and fix images on paper with that instrument, notably professor Charles who realised silhouettes with images fixed on silver-chlorate coated sheets of paper.
Around 1826, the optician Charles Chevalier, who was also specialised in the sale of scientific instruments, informed his friend Daguerre that he had learned of the existence of a man called Nicephore Niepce who was trying to find ways of capturing images near Châlon sur Saône.
Niepce used quite a prehistoric camera to capture some images and managed to produce true photos after hours of exposure and the use of many scientific recipes, which remained to be much improved.
However, he was the first man ever to have produced what looked like a true photograph around 1824.
Niepce, a former naval officer, was already aged 60 while Daguerre was just under 40 when both men decided to form a joint partnership in 1829 and to share the fruit of their findings.
Niepce had produced blurred images of houses in his village but his invention was certainly not fitted for general use.
In fact, it was Daguerre who invented what was to be called the Daguerreotype, a photograph fixed on a silver-coated copper sheet , using Niepce's findings as a basis of his process.
Niepce had died in 1833 and Daguerre issued his first daguerreotype around May 1837. Two years later he and Niepce's son accepted to sell their licence to the French State after they had failed to find financial backers and also as a result of a lack of interest shown by the public.
The State awarded in 1839 annual pensions of 6000 francs and 4000 francs to Daguerre and Isidore Niepce respectively while the Diorama was destroyed by fire the same year.
The daguerreotype process only survived until 1860 after researchers had found new and convenient techniques to reduce the time of exposure (between 15 and 35 minutes for a daguerreotype) as well as more suitable developing methods as photographs on salted paper or on glass proved much cheaper to produce.
Still without Daguerre and Niepce the history of photography would have started at a later date and probably elsewhere than in France.