Eclipse of the Sun - The first photographs of a total solar eclipse


The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

During 1841-42, William and Frederick Langenheim inaugurated a daguerreotype studio in Philadelphia. Renowned for their technical prowess, these former journalists weren't the city's first photographers but certainly rose to prominence as its most celebrated. On May 26, 1854, the Langenheim brothers captured eight consecutive daguerreotypes of the first total solar eclipse visible in North America since the birth of photography.

While six other daguerreotypists and one calotypist are known to have documented the event, only these seven daguerreotypes have survived. In the northern hemisphere, the moon consistently obscures the sun from right to left during a solar eclipse, resulting in these images appearing peculiar due to the inherent lateral reversal characteristic of uncorrected daguerreotypes, akin to a mirrored reflection.

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The Daguerreian Era

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) introduced the daguerreotype, marking the inception of photography, which swiftly disseminated globally following its unveiling to the public in Paris in 1839. Captured within a camera obscura and developed amidst mercury vapors, each meticulously polished silvered copper plate manifests as a singular photograph. When illuminated appropriately, it unveils remarkable intricacy and a sense of depth. Despite its European origins, the daguerreotype gained immense popularity in the United States, particularly in New York City. In the late 1850s, a multitude of daguerreotypists competed for clientele in the bustling city. The most prosperous artisans erected opulent portrait studios atop buildings along Broadway and adjacent streets, mirroring similar establishments across major American urban centers from Boston to San Francisco.

[Boston from a Hot-Air Balloon]
James Wallace Black 
American, 1860s
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

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