A Beautiful Video of the Daguerreotype Process

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The way film photographers feel about digital photographers may be the way daguerreotype photographers feel about the film guys. Working with dangerous chemicals, buffing out silver coated plates, spending an entire day preparing for, taking and developing one shot; that’s what daguerreotype photographers love to do. It’s the difference between “crafting a photograph” and “just snapping away.”

In this short film — put together by photographer and videographer Patrick Richardson Wright — Seattle-based photog Dan Carrillo talks about that craftsmanship, as well as the beauty and permanence of daguerreotype photography that keeps him doing it when others say “why bother.”

The process of making a daguerreotype starts with a silver-plated copper plate. That plate is first buffed and polished until it looks like a mirror. Then the plate is sensitized to light over iodine and bromine in specialized, light-proof boxes.

The plate, now yellow-rose in appearance, is then transferred via a light-proof holder into a camera, where it is exposed. Originally, this exposure could take as long as fifteen minutes, but improvements to the sensitization process (adding silver halides) and better lenses eventually dropped that number below one minute.

Finally, once the plate is exposed, it’s developed or “brought out” over hot mercury, fixed by immersion in a solution of sodium thiosulfate and then washed with distilled water. The final step is to tone or gild the plate using gold chloride, yielding, as Carrillo puts it “something that is unlike any other type of photograph.”

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