Photography in the Neath


Allow me to speculate on something I’ve observed. Let me preface by saying that I have seen no evidence that this is more than an oversight but as the subject is my field of study I noticed it and the ramifications could be quite interesting. This is not to nitpick but to create a narrative reason for an anachronism.

The date is 1893.
It is repeatedly mentioned that photographs encountered in the Neath are daguerreotypes, a process introduced in 1839 and perfected by the 1850’s. By the 1890’s it was barely used, having been virtually entirely replaced decades before by ferrotype, ambrotype, wet-plate and, by 1893 dry-plate glass. By 1889, Eastman Kodak was producing rolls of celuloid film and amateur photography had exploded with the introduction of the original Kodak the year before. Assuming that post-lapsarian London suffered from technological stagnation and is 30 years behind the surface they’d be ca. 1860’s: Solidly in the wet-plate photographic era.

So, why the prevalence of daguerreotypes?
If you’ve ever seen a daguerreotype there’s a particular quality that makes them different from any other medium: they’re perfectly reflective. The substrate is made of copper plated with highly polished silver. In fact, image quality is directly tied to how well the plate is polished. The photograph is a fine silver/mercury amalgam sitting on the surface of a mirror. This is why the daguerreotype was referred to as a &quotmirror with a memory&quot contemporaneously.

Given certain groups interests in mirrors, does photography actually hold more power in the Neath than we’re aware of? What exactly does concentrating the image of an individual onto the surface of a mirror do?

I leave you with that.
Yr. Obd. Srvt.

Dr. E.J. Hamacher

An excellent theory! But, looking through the archives, almost all the mentions of daguerrotypes are specifically -old- pictures - pictures of people when they were young, that sort of thing. More recent pictures are just called “photographs” - and can be specifically seen to be thin and flexible rather than weighty plates.

I’m generally assuming future advances in sciences as complex as, y’know, plastics, electronics, et al, are going to be progressively slower, hampered as we enter the 20th century by… um… the general lack of non-predatory exchange of trade in goods or ideas, overall madness/malaise, etc.

Of course, something more astonishing and terrible might be discovered instead…
edited by bitterhorn on 2/16/2015

Interesting. All I can add is that The Eye and the Camera card mentions that &quotthe young art of photography is especially difficult in the dimness of the Neath.&quot My very limited understanding of how daguerrotypes are created indicates that one would have similar problems in either medium, but perhaps this is relevant?

The only other mention of which I am aware is hiring a photographer at the Newspaper (Lyme or the Prudent Photographer).

You may be correct, Sir Tanah-Chook, in your suggestion that the daguerreotypes found around the Neath are vestiges of an earlier time. Honestly, when a reference to the sepia tone to the daguerreotype appeared I just assumed the term was being mis-used for flavour, which is fine - it’s a lovely esoteric word.
I still posit that even the historical daguerreotypes may hold more secrets dealing with mirrors than we’re aware.