A dispute is now under way between Americanand French experts following the discovery of a daguerreotype which couldchange the face the history of photography, according to the daily newspaperle Monde published on December 23rd 1998.
The daguerreotype, dated 1837, has createdsome turmoil in the world of photography since it would be the oldest everfound. Paris dealer Marc Pagneux discovered thedaguerreotype showing the portrait of a man who could be the painter NicolasHuet in 1989 at the Porte de Vanves flea market on the outskirts of theFrench capital. He bought it at 10 a.m, quite late a timefor any treasure hunter who usually roams the market when it opens at 7a.m. " I was intrigued by its primitive aspect as it was set in a badlycut cardboard frame," said Marc Pagneux who acquired it for less thanUS $ 150.
The dealer waited during almost ten yearsbefore deciding to reveal his find in the Etudes Photographiques smallmagazine. Asked why he had waited for so long, MarcPagneux answered "I wanted to have the pleasure of being alone to admireit". In fact, the dealer wanted to be surethat he had found what would be called a missing element in the historyof photography since most historians have agreed so far that the earliestknown daguerreotype was produced in 1839.
The portrait is not of good quality norgood condition but the face of the man his eyes wide opened printed ona silvered copper plate that one has to sway to discover his features islikely to be a bombshell for all experts.
Marc Pagneux found an inscription at theback of the Daguerreotype mentioning the date of 1837 meaning that he hadcome in possession of the oldest photographic portrait ever known. Justabove the date he discovered the name of Louis Daguerre, the inventor ofthe new daguerreotype process which he developed with Nicephore Niepce,the man who produced the first ever-photographic scene in 1827, a viewof roofs in Châlon-sur-Saône. " This portrait is more than a merephotography, it is an object which belongs to the history of sciences,"Marc Pagneux proudly said.
The portrait was published in the Novemberissue of the Etudes Photographiques magazine with comments by art historianAndré Gunthert and by Jacques Roquencourt a well known engineer. The first reactions came from the U.Swhere many researches have been made concerning daguerreotypes and mostof these were much critical about that find. The handwriting at the back of the daguerreotypeand its aspect seem all right in terms of authenticity but the disputewill go on until a complete analysis of the copper plate.
However this discovery seems to fit withDaguerre's statement made in February1838 since he declared: "I haveproduced some portraits as part of my tests including one, which is quitesuccessful".
This portrait could be the one to whichDaguerre referred as André Gunthert suggested. Still, the Americanirritation is understandable as the Daguerreotype process was rapidly adoptedin the U.S after it appeared despite the fact that France (with Niepceand Daguerre) and Britain (with Talbot) have been at odds regarding theinvention of photography. There is a much active Daguerrian Society inthe U.S and any discovery of that kind is likely to drive people mad, MarcPagneux stressed. André Gunthert went on to say thatAmerican historians had been battling regarding the earliest date for adaguerreotype portrait now set around 1839. "And now we have just putunder their nose a portrait produced two years in advance of that date,"headded. Such discovery also make certain writingsnull and void such as the statement made by Naomi Rosenblum in her WorldHistory of Photography according which the daguerreotype process was notsuitable for portraits when it appeared in 1839. "The time of exposurewould have last over 15 minutes with the sitter standing upright underfull sun," she notably wrote. In fact, Daguerre only needed two minutesto produce this portrait two years earlier!
The studies carried out by AndréGunthert and Jacques Roquencourt have also shed new light on the role ofLouis Daguerre in the invention of photography as he has been describedfor 150 years as a man who took advantage of his 1829 partnership withNiepce. They both wanted to develop a new processbut Niepce died in 1833 and Daguerre has long been considered as a usurperof that invention after he applied for its patent.
Daguerre was known as a prosperous manrunning in Paris his Diorama, an optical illusion show which attractedthousands of visitors, but was considered as an unattractive personalityand a failure as a painter while Niepce was living as a recluse in Châlon-sur-Sâone.As a result there is a Niepce Museum in that city but no Daguerre Museumanywhere in the world.
André Gunthert went on to say thatthere was no book mentioning the determining notion of the reduction oftime exposure, a necessary concept to impose photography while Daguerrewas guided by this preoccupation in this researches. All the more he hadbeen much concerned by the developing process whereas Niepce had nevergone so far in his attempts. " Daguerre has been the object of ascandalous misinformation campaign," Gunthert said stressing that photographywas invented thanks to the fact that Niepce and Daguerre worked togetherbut "Daguerre made a tactical error in giving his name to this new process".
Jacques Roquencourt was much critical aboutart historians who generally have no scientific knowledge regarding a domain,which belongs to the history of sciences while Marc Pagneux added thattoo many stupid things had been written about Daguerre who deserved a muchbetter treatment on the part of historians. He said he was sure new discoveries wouldbe made in the future which will rock present certainties. "This portraitis only the tip of the iceberg representing the history of photography",he added excitingly stressing that he was not willing to sell his now muchcherished portrait which might be worth between US $ 500,000 and one million…
Now the war is on between a new generationof French researchers who are mostly scientists and American historianswho have dominated the world of photography during the last five decades.