When Photography was a Silver Plate

Last October 22nd 2013 in Rome, was a special day because it was dedicated to the presentation of the Daguerreobase European project in Italy.


The international symposium, curated by the SMP Photoconservation, in collaboration with the Istituto nazionale per la grafica and under the patronage of the Società italiana per gli studi della fotografia (Sisf) had speakers coming from Italy, Belgium, Greece, Croatia, Portugal and the US. Hosted at the historical building of Palazzo Poli, a backdrop to the Trevi fountain and home of the largest collection of copper engraving plates in the world, the symposium program included an exhibition of the daguerreotypes from the collection of the ING together with examples contemporary daguerreotype work by an internationally recognized artists Jerry Spagnoli, Beniamino Terraneo, Marinus Ortelee and Charlotte Edam

orologio da taschinoEmphasizing the spirit of Daguerreobase project, namely its focus on sharing of the cultural heritage of European daguerreotypes, the series of lecturers presented at this occasion covered a number of fascinating aspects of the 19th century daguerreotype production in some of the countries of the south part of Europe. One of the key messages of the day was the importance of the daguerreotype heritage which - as underlined by Maria Antonella Fusco, director of the ING, in
her symposium welcome lecture - "is made of images which have played an essential role in creating a cultural bond in the history of Europe and a dialogue among different societies".

SchermafbeeldingThe FotoMuseum of Antwerp, coordinator of the European project, presented to symposium participants an overview of the technical aspects of the daguerreotype database, its content and user's tools. Conservators of photographs Sandra
M. Petrillo and Luis Pavão concentrated their lectures on material aspects of the daguerreotypes, discussing special conservation issues of daguerreotypes together with recent research contributions by conservation scientists.

Daguerreotypes from southern Europe
Interviews with the speakers
Promenades daguerriennes. Italian Cameras views
″In Italy, in contrast to other more economically advancedEuropean countries, it was the veduta and the documentation of monumental buildings and works of art that was most widely practiced during the early years of the daguerreotype era, before the multitudes of itinerant daguerreotypists descended upon the 
Peninsula to introduce portrait daguerreotypy″ explained the ING curator of the photography Croatia 4department Francesca Bonetti.

Italians in the mirror
Giovanni Fiorentino, the Professor of Theory and Techniques at the University of Tuscia stressed that : "In Italy the ritratto fotogenico also became widely popular and it was soon a common feature of the everyday lives of the bourgeois and aristocratic classes. The daguerreotype portrait was much more than a painted portrait and it became central to the
representation of social and personal identity."

The daguerreotype in the newly founded Greece
Dessy Griva, the photographic conservator at the Benaki Museum explained that ″In Greece the daguerreotype made its first appearence just two months after its official announcement, the main reason was that the birth of the new medium coincided with the golden Age of European travel. In early 1847, the French photographer Philibert Perraud visited Greece and taught there daguerreotype to the Greek
painter and professor Philippos Margaritis who became the first Greek daguerreotypist.″

Daguerreotypes in Croatia
Hrvoje Gržina, the archivist in the Croatian State archives in Zagreb underlined that ″today only fifty daguerreotypes are known to exist in the collections held in the JERRY SPAGNOLI anatomical studiesCroatian archives, museums, libraries and private owners, and that curators and collectors regard them as especially valuables historical and art objects.″

Contemporary daguerreotypes of Jerry Spagnoli
Our special guest of the day was the American artist 
Jerry Spagnoli. During his fascinating talk he explained all technical details of the making modern daguerreotypes and its use in contemporary artistic creations. He also made a practical demonstration using Edmond Becquerel,'s mercury free daguerreotype process.

«As documents, daguerreotypes have a unique charge. The palpable presence of the subject combined with the intimate viewing space create a feeling of engagement with the viewer which transcends the simple viewing of an image, the experience can cross the line and the subject can take on a physical presence before the viewer. The distancing reflex we have when looking at a photograph can be overcome by the visceral integrity of the daguerreotype»*.

*"Afterword" of the book by Jerry Spagnoli, The Daguerreotype, Gottingen, Steidl, 2006