Dauguerre was originally a theatre and set designer by talent. He became famous when working for Prevost’s theatre of comical ambiguities. The play Vampire was staged using Daguerre’s magnificent and ingenious sets. A few years later in 1820 he started thinking about opening his own business. Two years later Diorama opened its doors and was an immediate success. Daguerre’s painted landscapes were very realistic; his Mount Vesuvius backdrop even spouted smoke and fire!
The success of Diorama was the result of an ingenious lighting system with several translucent paintings placed one behind the other and lit consecutively. To produce exact sketches of his huge sets Daguerre relied heavily on the Camera Obscurra. Daguerre had heard about Niepces experiments and his interest was aroused immediately. He offered to go into partnership with Niepce.
Niepce had a terrible mistrust of people and to begin with refused to see Daguerre. It was only when his brother Claude was seriously ill that Niepce decided to meet with Daguerre and was instantly captivated by the man.
Niepce had found the perfect partner who he believed could be trusted. Soon the two of them signed a contract stating that any profits would be split evenly between the two partners.
In 1835 shortly after Niepce’s death Daguerre began experimenting with mercury vapors to develop the latent image. Daguerre had previously been experimenting with iodine vapors, forming a thin film of light-sensitive silver iodine as early as 1831.
Daguerre had told Niepce about his process but it took about 4 years before he could create a good light-produced image on an iodized silver plate. The improved sensitivity of the plate resulted in a much shorter exposure time. With this new iodized silver plate method the imagers were not permanent and disappeared almost as soon as they were developed.
In late 1837 Daguerre discovered the second most important step in his new process. Now the image could finally be partially fixed with a solution of common table salt. Daguerre had now found a practical procedure by which exposure; development and fixing produced an original positive image but which could not be copied.
Daguerre named his process the daguerreotype but like Niepce he ultimately failed to make the process profitable. Only later when Daguerre ask physicist and astronomer Arago for help did he finally become successful. Arago informed the French Academie des Sciences about Daguerre’s process. The news became a worldwide sensation. About six months later on June 15, 1839, King Louis Philippe signed a statute entitling Daguerre to an annuity of 6000 francs. Niepce’s son received a yearly fee of 4000 francs. Daguerre was also decorated with a Legion of Honor.
On August 19, 1839 Daguerre’s process was made public but by making the process property of the state of the French government it meant the daguerreotype was available to everyone.
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