Symposium Report – The Daguerreian Society Symposium 2021

Along with a new U.S. President, 2021 brought a slew of changes to society, and despite the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, only a small percentage of in-person events have resumed. The pandemic has once again forced a reassessment of what we risk by gathering, be it with your family, friends, or colleagues. Into the breach has come Zoom, a useful, if sometimes inelegant solution. And for a variety of lectures, meetings, and demonstrations, Zoom has been a valuable tool. Last year’s 2020 Symposium was held by Zoom, it worked fine, and attendees commented positively. 

Last year’s virtual symposium answered our primary question, “How does Zoom work for a symposium that gathers experts and collectors – those impassioned lovers of small metal plates carrying an impossibly thin and delicate sliver of silver that have to be viewed in-person, at just the right angle, in a specific light, for a glimpse of life captured over 150 years ago? How does an electronically based representation of that experience work?” 

The answer, we found, was that while it was true that you couldn’t hold an image in your hands, the scholarship, context, history, and techniques to determine the provenance of images, took on an even more important role. 

So, while it might be accurate that we miss the physical, but the love and pursuit of these images aren’t really about the money, the sales, the auctions: Before any of that can happen, education comes first. As I stated last year, the Society has always struck me as being mostly about education, in the belief that the best collectors are informed and educated ones. 

Stats for the 2021 conference were: 104 registrations from seven countries. There were 57 dealer trade rooms, with 381 items sold. Getman’s provided early entry coupons and 185 were used to get into the Photo Fair on the first day. 

It was not uncommon to see 80–90 participants during sessions, with a maximum of 104-105, which indicated a high level of both interest and participation, all signs of a successful symposium. The auction raised over $25,000. The Paddle Pledge total was $12,561, with 47 donations from $50 to $1,000. 

Exhibition on Early Photography from the Collection of Hans Gummersbach at the Museum Georg Schaefer, Schweinfurt, Germany

The festivities kicked off on Friday, October 15th with video tours of the exhibition on early photography from the collection of the private collector Hans Gummersbach at the Museum Georg Schaefer, Schweinfurt, Germany. Gummersbach led the tour of the exhibition entitled New Truth? Little Miracles, that featured about 300 objects including daguerreotypes, stereo-daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, calotypes, albumen prints, historical documents, and contemporary caricatures on early photography. 

The video played at the wrong speed, and there were audio issues, but these technological impediments were overcome with a rebroadcast later in the afternoon. The rebroadcast proved easier to watch, though not up the quality of the original, which was a professionally produced tour of the exhibition, and interviews with Hans. 

Hans went on to speak lovingly of his book and catalog collection, his search for information, and to sharpen his view by seeking answers to questions such as: What is the image telling him? What is the photographer telling him? Bill Becker commented that it was like having a time-traveling conversation. 

One of the joys of Gummersbach’s exhibition was the wall-sized enlargement of an image by Antoine François Jean Claudet, which revealed the various objects in the image in great detail, and served as a testament to the extraordinary resolution of the daguerreotype process. Bravo! I was delighted to see John Thomson’s Street Life in London, one of this author’s favorite projects. The installation was seamless, elegant, informative, with a beautiful flow and narrative. I think that it made everyone a bit jealous, it was so well done, and displaying such a rich depth of work and curatorial selection. 

He concluded by welcoming his Daguerreian Society friends, and warning that when they come to visit, they should plan to travel by bicycle. Gummersbach was enthusiastic about his collection, and thrilled at the German and English printing of his catalog 

A typical message on the chat board was from Carlos Vertanessian: “Congrats Dear Hans! This is any collectors’ dream come true. Thank for your generosity of sharing your treasures with all of us.” We found Hans’s presentation a wonderful introduction to the symposium, setting a warm and passionate tone. 

The Photography Collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Next up, Ella Ravilious, Curator of Design and Architecture, the Photography Collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, gave an overview of some of the early photographs in the V&A and Royal Photographic Society collections, and the key photographers, curators, and exhibitions that brought them to light. Roger Fenton and others formed the Photographic Society (later the RPS) in 1853. That same year, the institution that would become the V&A began collecting and commissioning photographs. In 2017, the RPS collection was transferred to the V&A. 

Ravilious’s presentation started off with a prerecorded video, which went well, till it didn’t, with the audio dropping out. Fortunately, a quick decision to have her do a live accompaniment along with the video worked splendidly, providing a spontaneity that video rarely provides. It also reinforced her passion for the medium. The chat response was positive, with Jon Ramirez Monaco, writing, “BRAVO, ELLA! Such a fantastic presentation! THANK YOU!” 

TIPPs: An Online Database for Exploring the Prints Tipped Into Nineteenth-Century Photography Manuals

Ravilious was followed by Katherine (Kappy) Mintie, Senior Researcher in Art History, Lens Media Lab, Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Yale University, who provided a tour of Yale’s website, TIPPs: An Online Database for Exploring the Prints Tipped into Nineteenth-Century Photography Manuals

Mintie took us on a tour of the site, which was an exemplary representation of how to offer access to your collection, powered by robust search tools. You could, for example, view images using specific criteria such as color or the paper manufacturer. 

The presentation went off without a hitch or glitch, which was a sigh of relief, I’m sure, for all involved. The search functionality of the site was well thought out, and very user friendly. The TIPPs Project also listed papers and articles, so you could read other’s work, and upload your own research. 

Introduction and Welcome to the Symposium / Preview of the Upcoming 2021 Daguerreian Annual 

At 6 p.m., after an enthusiastic welcome from Daguerreian Society President Mike Medhurst, Sarah Weatherwax took the speaker’s spot to introduce the publications that she and Stephen Perloff edit. She encouraged folks to submit articles, so they had something to edit! Reviewing past issues, it’s clear to see their excellence at work, consistently, professionally, making the issues and articles a pleasure to read. Stephen Perloff took over from Weatherwax, highlighting some articles slated to appear in the 2021 Annual. 

Contemporary Daguerreians' Round Table 

Friday evening at 8 p.m. kicked off with a Contemporary Daguerreians’ Round Table, hosted by Dr. Mike Robinson. The panelists included Takashi Arai (Tokyo), Hengli Ge (China), Ken Nelson (USA), and Jerry Spagnoli (USA). I was excited to view this panel, as I discovered while teaching the history of photography for the past 30-plus years that processes like the daguerreotype are of interest to students, but they remain fairly abstract until they learn of contemporary artists working with the process, and creating exciting and extraordinary new work. That opens their eyes to the process’s potential. 

Each of the panelists began by discussing their introduction to the daguerreotype process and the transformation that occurred the first time they prepared a plate. They recounted the challenge of making particular daguerreotypes – from photographing the tenth anniversary of 9/11, to making an image at high altitude, to recording a surgical procedure. The panelists were asked about the first daguerreotype they had ever seen. Spagnoli recalled seeing his first at a photo fair in New York City in 1979. “I’d never seen anything like it. I was absolutely stunned,” he said. “It represented the perfect possibilities of photography. It was impossible to imagine an image with more vibrancy, acuteness, the sense of space. Everything about it was brilliant, and after a few seconds being stunned, the next thought I had was that somebody made this, in the 19th century, ya know, how difficult could it be? 

Arai discussed images he saw in Philadelphia, a set of three daguerreotypes by Robert Cornelius. Ge then showed a Southworth and Hawes image declaring it was different from any daguerreotype that he had ever seen, raising the artistic level to new heights. 

Nelson reiterated that there is a trove of information from the original practitioners that has yet to be tapped by modern daguerreotypists. The internet was full of modern documents, but rarely does it scratch the vintage documentation. 

Contemporary Daguerreians’ Round Table 

Robinson referred to his dissertation on “tacit knowledge” in that, while we might have daguerreotype manuals and handbooks, what is represented is often a tiny portion of what the author actually knew.

The Q&A followed with a splendid array of questions. I was overjoyed that the panel lasted over two hours. It allowed a more granular, in-depth, and more insightful discussion than a shorter discussion might have entailed. And it’s possible that without Zoom, it wouldn’t have happened. 

Once the recording stopped, the conversation continued past 11:30, centering around a question posed by Mike Robinson: “Do we need to call ourselves “contemporary” daguerreotypists. Why use the word “contemporary”? Why not just “daguerreotypists”? Is this a self-limiting description? Spagnoli answered that he considered himself a photographer who makes daguerreotypes. 

The freewheeling discussion kept on, and if there is one reason to be a member of the society, this was it. The anecdotes and continued discussion of self-labeling was a fascinating and enlightening experience. How one defines oneself, how the market defines you, and the pros and cons of being defined by a process, especially in an age of curated salads and artisanal bagels, was just the tip of the iceberg of the fun, humor, and camaraderie. 

Opening of the Photography Fair to the public 

Saturday began with the public opening of the Virtual Trade Fair. The first panel talk began at 1 p.m. 

The Market for Daguerreotypes and Cased Images, Or How We Got to Where We Are
Speakers: Will Stapp, former Curator of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery; Denise Bethel, former Head of Photographs, Sotheby’s New York; Chris Mahoney, Senior International Specialist, Photographs, Phillips; Daile Kaplan, former Head of Photographs, Swann Auction Galleries; C. Wesley Cowan, Founder, Cowan’s Auctions and Vice Chair, Hindman Auctions (moderator). 

Wes Cowan began by discussing the importance of the work sold by these three houses – Sotheby, Swann, and Cowan’s – and the panelists offered brief histories of each in relationship to the photography market. 

Cowan declared that 1971 was a useful date to consider as when daguerreotypes were “rediscovered,” with the publication of Richard Rudisill’s Mirror Image: The Influence of the Daguerreotype on American Societythe first book exclusively about dags. Other early benchmarks included the Eastman House’s exhibition, The Spirit of Fact: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth and Hawes opening in 1973, and the National Portrait Gallery’s 1978 exhibition, Facing the Light. Will Stapp who was at the NPG at the time discussed the genesis of the exhibition and the catalog. Stapp acknowledged that the exhibition was very male-oriented. 

Daile Kaplan discussed Swann’s 1952 sale of Dr. Albert Marshall’s collection, “The First Complete Auction of Photographica in America,” a sale in which only about 10 people participated in the room. “You have all these spots, but what you don’t have is this continuous stream of auctions, until Swann and Sotheby’s started having regular twice-yearly photography auctions in 1975, Christies picked it up in 1978, and by 1980, you start to have a real continuous stream of photography auctions,” Kaplan stated. 

The panelists then highlighted significant daguerreotypes that have come onto the market including: 

  • 1980: Christie’s sets the record for the most expensive photograph ever sold with $36,000 spent on an Albert Sands Southworth whole-plate daguerreotype. 

  • 1985: Swann sets the record with the $54,000 sale of quarter-plate by Mathew Brady. Will Stapp went over his bidding limit to acquire this for National Portrait Gallery. 

  • 1992: Swann sells an iconographic quarter-plate daguerreotype of downtown Cincinnati by Black daguerreotypist James Presley Ball for $69,300. 

  • 1996: Sotheby’s sells the Stransky Collection. 

  • 1999: The David Feigenbaum Collection of Southworth & Hawes (113 lots) sold for $3,304,498. Chris Mahoney & Denise Bethel saw the images naked, no glass, just to see the plates. Bethel said that it was one of the greatest experiences of her entire career. A Cloud Study daguerreotype sold for $354,000 to a private collector, setting a record for the highest prices for a daguerreotype. 

  • 2000: Sotheby’s sells the Gold Rush: The Stephen Anaya Collection, 33 images for $1.2 million. Even today, these images are the reference for the Gold Rush. 

  • 2004: Cowan’s Strikes Gold. “The Great Man has Fallen,” a whole-plate daguerreotype by Robert Vance sold for $132,000. 

  • 2007: An Abolitionist Appears at Cowan’s – $97,750 for John Brown – a long lost quarter-plate daguerreotype by Augustus Washington. 

  • 2008: Sotheby’s set the world record (again), $409,000 for Samuel Appleton a half-plate daguerreotype by Southworth & Hawes. 

  • 2017: After a long dry spell, Sotheby’s sells a whole-plate daguerreotype by Phillip Haas of John Quincy Adams for $365,000. 

  • 2019: Cowan’s finds a treasure on Facebook – $324,500 for a Green County, Georgia, image of enslavement, a quarter-plate daguerreotype. It is the only image of enslaved African Americans with the product (cotton) that kept them enslaved. It was purchased by the Nelson- Atkins Museum. 

  • 2021: The Henry Fitz Jr. Archive – Including one of the earliest portraits taken in America, probably taken by Alexander Wolcott in the first few weeks of January 1840. On November 15, 2021, Hindman Auction’s sold the Fitz Archive for $300,000. [Later revealed to have been purchased by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of American Art.]

The panelists also discussed other influences on the market including:

  • 1995: Launch of e-Bay and the emergence of many daguerreotypes 

  • 2008: The market matures and turns – recession – Nelson-Atkins Museum slows down its aggressive buying — private collectors are starting to age-out – material becomes scarcer. 

  • 2012: The Isenburg Collection is acquired and donated to the National Museum of Canada. 

  • 2020: The Drew Knowlton and William Schaeffer Collection is acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

  • 2021: The Art Institute of Chicago Acquires the W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg Collection of Nineteenth- Century American Photography. 

The panelists also discussed whether over the course of their careers daguerreotypes have been viewed more as historical objects or as artistic objects. Mahoney stated that it was a disservice to the daguerreotypist to only pay attention to the image content. None of the images were taken lightly or capriciously. They are history, but also art. Kaplan agreed and stated that photography had been compromised by the focus on content. 

This panel was another one of those reasons to be a member of the Society. It also reinforced how the traditions of photo history are askew. For most academics the market for images is a distant second to content and context, while conversations like this reinforce that without impassioned collectors, and auctioneers and houses with serious scholarship at the heart of their endeavor, that our notion of photo history would be rendered mute for the most part. This is the sort of discussion that photo history students need to hear, to understand how the images they encounter are even part of the discussion. Another superb panel!

The Golden Days of George Eastman House 

Speakers: Grant Romer, Founding Director, Academy of Archaic Imaging; Keith Davis, former Chief Curator of Photography, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; John Rohrbach, Senior Curator of Photographs, The Amon Carter Museum of American Art; and Michelle Delaney, Assistant Director for History and Culture, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (moderator). 

Keith Davis was the first presenter to discuss his time at the GEH, praising the collective social spirit of the day in which even the interns had full access to the archives. “There was a sense of discovery every single day.” 

Davis made lots of copy slides, which he used for teaching for years, and had his first real introduction to daguerreotypes. One of the best things about the GEH was that you weren’t limited to masterpieces, but had access to a wide range of work. And, because he had a modest travel stipend, he was able to visit important places, including Laycock Abbey. 

Keith Davis talks about the golden days of the George Eastman House. 

Davis’s presentation was a reminder of how much there is to learn about the field, and how little of this is migrating to students in photography programs. 

Bob Doherty, GEH director, recommended Davis to catalog the Hallmark Collection, on a six-month temporary basis and that opportunity turned into his job for 41 years. 

John Rohrbach was the next speaker.. Grant Romer was the only person who responded to his inquiry about temporary employment opportunities as a college student. Rohrbach arrived at the GEH the morning after there was a large nitrate fire in the outdoor film vaults. Like Davis, he commented on what a supportive community existed at the GEH. 

Robert Sobieszek and other leading lights of the photography community were all part of life at the GEH. 

Rohrbach returned to the GEH after graduation, and thought he had a permanent job, but it wasn’t to be. He lived with Romer and recalled their wonderful discussions about conservation and why faded photographs were so important.. 

During this time, everyone knew about the GEH’s financial problems. Kodak was having problems, and seeking to wean itself away from the House. In 1979, Rohrbach and a large group of staff were jettisoned. Suddenly, he had to figure out his future. He got his Ph.D. at the University of Delaware and that then led him to the Amon Carter Museum.. 

Grant Romer discussed the origins of the house, which came into existence during the 100th anniversary of photography 

in 1939. In the beginning, the house was a company museum, dedicated to the people who made the technology, the science, and research labs and served as sort of a clubhouse for the elite scientists from Kodak. 

The Beaumont Newhall era ran from about 1958 to 1968 with a shift from emphasizing the technical history of photography to seeing it as art history, a change that caused a schism. 

Preservation of photography 

The emergence of the fine art photo market in the 1960s led to understanding conservation. 

Dr. Walter (Nobby) Clark received an NEA grant to establish a GEH conservation lab. 

José Orraca who had studied study chemistry at RIT, declared himself the Conservator. 

However, it was Alice Swan who really established conservation at the House — and who convinced Romer to become a conservator. 

What made GEH special was not just the collection, but also the people who were there. Everyone, from the guards on down, all loved photography. Many of the staff were photographers, even the gardeners had an interest in photography. No one ever questioned what you were looking at or why. When Romer arrived in Rochester, one in ten residents worked for Kodak and many personally knew George Eastman. The community had many collectors, and people who loved photography. 

Rachel Wetzel discusses her process for identifying unidentified sitters. 

In 1985 Kodak brought in someone who was interested in money, not photography and from that point on “it wasn’t the same place for me,” concluded Romer. 

I, for one, would have happily spent the night listening to more stories! From the chats posted, I don’t think I was alone in that feeling. The entire panel, represents (again) just how extraor- dinary the Society can be. I’ve been a member of SPE (Society for Photographic Education) for over 30 years, and attended many conferences, both regional and national, and I can’t recall many sessions, in fact entire conferences, that approached the panels offered by the Society during its symposiums, and today was another example of that wealth of offerings. The consensus was that Henry Zucker and Grant Romer are overdue for dedicated panels. 

The Auction

Michael Lehr took everyone through the auction, with some wonderful buys, and important images. He highlighted that there were many bargains, that started as low as fifty dollars, allowing just about anyone the ability to become a collector. 

Jump into History! Researching Images and Sitters with Internet Resources

Speakers: Shayne Davidson, author, illustrator and genealogist; Rachel Wetzel, Conservator, Library of Congress; and Bill Becker, Director, American Museum of Photography (moderator) 

Shayne Davidson walked us through her research to identify a young unnamed Black boy in a ninth-plate ambrotype from Bill Becker’s collection. The image had a paper label with some background information which was the starting point for re- search. It is necessary to put on your detective hat, and think of a variety of ways of approaching genealogical searches. For example, only use a first name, then try a last name, or dates. Keep in mind that spelling was not standardized.

Davidson used census records, newspaper accounts, marriage and death records to conclude that the boy is most likely Zachariah Mustapha (1850–1885). Davidson reminded us that so much of what we think about genealogical research is based on white ancestry, not on African American ancestry. You can’t, for example, assume that people were married, or ever allowed to be married. Be a dog with a bone, don’t give up, just try, try, and try. 

Rachel Wetzel – Library of Congress 

Wetzel walked us through her process for identifying unidentified sitters, developed as part of her larger Robert Cornelius database project. In one example she had a Cornelius plate with only a name, Fanny Elssler, and no image, and she located a lithograph of the sitter, a famous ballerina, stating it was based on a Cornelius daguerreotype, most likely the now-blank plate. She identified another Cornelius plate of an unidentified man serendipitously through research a colleague was doing about the first photographer of the U.S. Capitol. By looking through other identified photographs and archival records, Wetzel identified him as Montgomery Meigs, a former Philadelphian who hired Cornelius’s family firm to install lights in the Capitol building. 

Jeremy Rowe talked about his process for Georeferencing 19th-century New York City photographers. 

Tips for Researching:

  • Start with the known facts. For the Cornelius project, his studio was in Philadelphia so that’s where most of his customers were from. The $5–$6 cost meant his customers were well-off and many were connected to the University of Pennsylvania since that was where Cornelius’s silent partner worked. 
  • Use the provenance to help identify sitters. Wealthy families often published detailed genealogies that sometimes include illustrations.

  • Look at cases. Try to research the maker of daguerreotype cases. 

Information from the Robert Cornelius project was added to a project with a larger focus entitled “Portraits of Brotherly Love,” which mapped Philadelphia studios in the 1840s and is available online. She is currently working with Adrienne Lundgren, her Library of Congress colleague, on a database of John Plumbe’s work. 

In the chat, Tim Lindholm warned everyone to not believe everything you see on There’s bad information that gets copied all over the place, so may look substantial but is still just as wrong. Both Davidson and Wetzel wholeheart- edly agreed. There are just too many people who don’t know what they are doing, especially when folks post family trees. 

The chat was full of positive comments, and enthusiastic tips for others in their research work. This was another fantastic panel and left everyone amazed at the detective work displayed. 

Jeremy Rowe — Serendipity is Key 

Rowe talked about his process for georeferencing 19th-century 

New York City photographers.

He shared advertisements and studio images, and provided a series of enlightening graphs showing process (ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, paper photo- graphs), operators, and suppliers to correlate the patterns and trends. By doing this, trends of how the businesses related to each other become more obvious. He also used GIS (Geographic Information System) software from ESRI to input data into both period and current maps, allowing you to instantly overlay the information to form new understandings. 

ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) creates software that is used globally to correlate data with geographic data, so you can view a specific location and search for information related to that location. 

As an example, he showed an area near Spring and Prince Streets in New York City. His research led him to find 106 studios on the Bowery, a surprisingly large number for a rela- tively small area. He also used this process to follow the work of photographer Dudley Flanders as he traveled in California and Arizona in the 1870s and to examine what areas of Arizona were stereographically documented. Rowe was a well-oiled machine, and was awash in a ton of data and information. Best of all he knew how to harness technology to reveal patterns not immediately visible. 

Adrienne Lundgren — Thinking in Terms of Data 

Lundgren is currently working on mapping the growth in the number of women photographers in the Midwest. Data allows you to go from a tree level to a forest level, and zoom back again. 

She often uses Craig’s Daguerreian Registry, scanned the registry, then used an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) application, resulting in the creation of an Excel spreadsheet. 

This allowed her to clean the data, create graphs, and identify practitioners. She also built maps using the Tableau app where she can upload information from her spreadsheet. She then shared a map of the United States where she mapped out all the photographers who began their studios between 1839 and 1860. On another map, she used the data to show when and where woman photographers opened up their studios during the same time period. Although the data and datasets can be quite dry, it can be used to better understand the lives of your subjects. 

Nick Wright — Looking at Meiggs Wharf — Unifying Geography

Wright used photography and maps to examine the history of San Francisco’s Meiggs Wharf. 

In 1851, Henry Meiggs, started building a wharf, but defrauded the city of San Francisco. Later he made a fortune building railroads in South America, and paid back his warrants, but never returned to the city because he feared being prosecuted. 

The question is what happened to the wharf? The answer is landfill, and what is now called North Beach. 

Wright then showed images of Abe Warner’s Cobwebs Palace (so called, as he never cleaned the cobwebs), and these images of the Palace help to locate the wharf. Images provide witness to the creation and impact of the seawall, and the eventual end of the wharf. 

He concluded by listing some resources he used. 

In the chat Jeremy Rowe raised the question of how best to share research and electronic datasets. We need to make sure that this data is preserved. The work being done with Craig’s data is staggering. 

Lundgren emphasized the great work of Peter Palmquist and John Craig. We need to be conscious of standing on the shoulders of giants. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the panel, it helped to demystify and explain the various approaches that researchers can take in trying to ascertain the provenance of an image. It also highlighted the fact that while data might be out there, the use of it depends on the skill and tenaciousness of the researcher. Personally, I enjoyed Rowe’s discussion of the use of GIS software, as I trained on it at ESRI while I taught in California. I think that his demonstration was very revealing of its immense power and capabilities to photo archivists, curators, and researchers. The need to stay current with technology underscored the discussion. 


So, how was this second Zoom edition Symposium? The folks I chatted with all agreed it was a delight – not a replacement for gathering in person, but a well-run, organized, structured, and enjoyable weekend. The educational aspect was perhaps even better than in person, especially with the ability to watch the presentations on demand afterward. Zoom allowed the Society to assemble participants from throughout the globe, many of whom might not have been able to attend in person, even if the pandemic wasn’t an issue. Similar to last year, what’s wonderful about the audience is how varied it is. There were collectors, historians, educators, curators, practitioners, archivists, photo historians, dealers, and more. 

It’s not a trivial task to pull all this together, and with the exception of a few technological issues early on, the Society’s team delivered. One advantage to a virtual conference is that there is no need for travel plans, hotel rooms, transportation, and there are no food costs. The annual 19th-century photographic auction, a fundraiser for the Society, was a success. Diane Filippi, the Business Director for the Society, along with the Symposium Committee, adroitly managed the entire Symposium. Next year, I’ll be there, and urge anyone interested in photography, history, collecting, scholarship, and exhibitions to join in. I think it’s fair to say, that a good time was had by all. Don’t be shy, spread the word. It seems important that more students are involved, as this year’s symposium reiterated how important and vital the task of inculcating students to serious discussion of the field is. 

In contrast to organizations like SPE, which has shifted to showcasing work of educators on the career track, as opposed to the practicum of teaching, this is a bona fide exploration of photographic history, not in a superficial, trending way, but from the core of photographic expression and context. If there is one thing we need during these times of fake news, and media manipulated and invented “crises,” it is a showcase for what is real, profound, and moving. 

After the symposium ended, and I looked through my notes, two ideas kept bubbling up. The first, put forth by Mike Robinson, from his dissertation, reference the idea that a manual represents not the full scope of knowledge held by the author, but only a small portion of the implicit “tacit knowledge” of the author, and of the times. My wife is a fan of the British Baking Show in which a barebones recipe is given, but the rest is up to the “tacit knowledge” of the chefs to make right, and looking back at the manuals now available for easy download on the internet, it’s amazing that it was even possible to recreate the daguerreotype process. Knowing the science seems a far cry from actualizing it. 

The second was a line spoken by Jerry Spagnoli about the first time he saw a daguerreotype. He said that “It represented the perfect possibilities of photography,” an understanding and insight that I thought was the perfect description of the symposium itself. 

With thanks for editorial support by Nancy Burlan, Stephen Perloff, and Sarah Weatherwax.

Harris Fogel, posted 1/20/2022

Originally posted in the Daguerreian Society Quarterly Volume 33 Number 4, October – December 2021.

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