My Four Favourite Daguerreotypes

Mike Robinson is a modern Daguerreotype photographer. He was featured in the Daguerreian Society Year 2001 Annual. He has images in an exhibition by Hallmark Cards in St. Louis. These are four modern Daguerreotype images taken by Mike and mounted in a modern version of the traditional Union case.

Mike's first image is a half plate daguerreotype of his baby daughter Grania Grace Christie Robinson. She kept absolutely still for this 13 second exposure.

The second image is a still life titled Astronomy. It is one of six images taken for the Hallmark show in St. Louis. Each image represents one segment of Natural Science in the 19th century. This image shows a Gregorian Telescope and a Sunshine Recorder.

The Gregorian Telescope uses concave mirrors to focus the image of distant objects. An eyepiece is used to view the image created by the mirrors.

The Sunshine Recorder focusses the rays of the sun on a length of cardboard. Over the course of the day a track is burnt into the paper with gaps during the cloudy periods. The path is calibrated to the hour of day so the number of hours of sunlight can be calculated.

The third image features his daughter being weighed at 12 weeks of age by their mid-wife using the traditional scales. The image is part of a series on contemporary Canadian occupations.

The fourth image is a Daguerreotype taken during the course of an operation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. On October 16, 1846 the first operation using ether as an anaesthetic was performed at Massachusetts General. Prior to this date the best that could be done was to give the patient a strong drink and perform the operation at top speed - including such procedures and amputation of a limb!

The event was re-enacted at least twice and recorded by photography. The first view was taken by the famous Boston Daguerreotypists, Southworth & Hawes. The authorship of the second view was not known (see The Spirit of Fact, published by George Eastman House in 1976, image 102.). In January 2000, Mike was approached by a writer who wanted a modern Daguerreotype taken during a live operation for an article due for release shortly in Discover magazine (February 2002) .

Mike prepared 3 plates and at 7:00 am he began setting up for the shoot. The operation was scheduled to begin at 8:00 am. A fume hood was installed in a nearby room to permit Mike to develop his images on the spot. The first problem he hit was illumination. In spite of the high light level in the room, an exposure would take three minutes. Mike brought a 2,000 watt tungsten light with him for just such a situation.

He was advised that all electrical instruments had to be inspected and approved by the hospital electrician. He learned that none of the previous camera crews had managed to have their lights approved. His was no different. A small electrical leak made the light too dangerous to use in the operating room. The electrician suggested replacing the plug. The proved to be the source of the leak and Mike was cleared to use his light. He calculated that the exposure would now be a snappy 75 seconds with the light bounced off the ceiling.

The operating room was the same one used in the famous 1846 procedure. To Mike's eye the only change was the addition of a projection screen which blocked the north light window that aided Southworth and Hawes. Once the patient was put under, Mike took his shots. The best one was a two minute exposure.

ABOUT THE IMAGES. Click on any image and in a few seconds you will see an enlarged view in a separate window. The images were taken with a Nikon 990 digital camera and modified as required in Photoshop. All images are © 2001 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and may be used if the source is mentioned, except the daguerreotype images which are © 2001 Mike Robinson and may not be reproduced without his permission.


Bob Carter












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