Capturing the Light by Roger Watson and Helen Rappaport – review

please note this post is not by Jay Clapp Photography but from the photography news at the guardian for your viewing pleasure please feel free to use the share buttons at the bottom.

Sean O’Hagan enjoys a history of the birth of photography told as a fierce race between two rivals

“I have seized the light. I have arrested its flight.” So wrote Louis Daguerre in a letter to his friend Charles Chevalier in 1839. A flamboyant and ruthlessly ambitious French scientist, Daguerre is the most famous of the founding fathers of photography, though his daguerreotype evolved out of a process pioneered by the lesser known Nicéphore Niépce, who created the first permanent camera photograph in 1826.

Daguerre worked alongside Niépce until the latter’s death in 1833 and some suspect that Daguerre actively misled his collaborator as to the importance of his invention. In January 1839, when Daguerre declared his invention to the French Academy of Sciences, he was heralded as a scientist of almost miraculous power. Out of this murky world of collaboration and competition, a medium was born that changed the course of history, art, journalism and war by its instancy and its veracity – and sometimes by its trickery.

Capturing the Light traces the lives of Daguerre and his British counterpart, Henry Fox Talbot, who, unbeknown to each other, were trying to capture the secret of the photographic process – how an image taken by a camera could be fixed permanently on paper. With alternate chapters devoted to the life and work of each man, the narrative constructed by photography historians Roger Watson and Helen Rappaport often reads like a scientific thriller: the solitary, well-bred, self-effacing Englishman versus the larger-than-life French showman and self-publicist. It is, unsurprisingly, a tangled tale.

It is also a cautionary one, because it shows that it was who you knew as much as what you knew that was important in the world of Victorian scientific invention. Daguerre knew François Arago, perpetual secretary at the French Academy of Sciences. Arago championed Daguerre over another overlooked pioneer of photography, Hippolyte Bayard, who had invented a different development process slightly earlier. Bayard was so dismayed by his treatment at the hands of the academy that he made the world’s first self-portrait – of himself posing as a suicide. On the back, he wrote: “… The government which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself…”

This dramatically staged narrative certainly gives you some sense of the closeness of the race between the two main rivals who claimed to be the inventors of photography. Given, though, that each inventor was unaware of the other’s progress, it does prompt the question: is there a kind of literary photoshopping going on here? © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

via Art and design: Photography | Sean O’Hagan Thanks for reading Jay


About jayclappphotography

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Posted on April 21, 2013, in Photography News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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