P ODSAIGT IUVEERLYR E I A N
BY PETER SHERIDAN
Photographer Jonathan Danforth reclaims a lost art form.
We’ve all experienced that postmodern important to have a mirror finish to the plate. The
sense of unease that accompanies the slightest scratch or blemish will show up on the image.
purchase of a new computer, digital music The good thing is that if you screw up, you can just
player, or any new technology, inwardly knowing wipe the plate clean, polish it up, and start again.”
that in mere days it will be obsolete, while our credit Danforth is one of only an estimated 100 photo-card bill will live on for years afterward. As an amateur graphers worldwide creating daguerreotypes today.
photographer, Jonathan Danforth grew weary of “It’s an art with craft at its heart,” he says. “You have
repeatedly upgrading his cameras with new models to craft your equipment, craft your silver photo-boasting ever-higher pixel counts, greater magnifi- graphic plates, craft the image, and craft the case
cation, and more powerful memory chips. that preserves the fragile photograph.”
“I chased the technology for a while, but finally got And because the daguerreotype does not use a
sick of it,” admits Danforth, an audiovisual engineer. negative, but instead creates an image directly on
“I decided to see if I could do more with less.” the plate, it’s the ultimate creative replica.
Then, in 2003, when he and his wife, Jill, were on “I like it because, in an age of mass production,
their honeymoon in London, he became mesmer- the image is one of a kind,” says Danforth. “Every
ized by an exhibition of early daguerreotypes. He daguerreotype is the definition of unique. It’s a long
decided to create his own, so he took a course from and complex process, but at its end you have a
one of America’s few practicing daguerreotype beautiful and gem-like image, attractive and
photographers. alluring in ways other photographs can never be.”
So began Danforth’s quest to reclaim the anti- Danforth creates his images in a modified 8x10
quated art of the daguerreotype — the original camera on a silver-plated copper sheet that has
commercial photograph, first patented by French been chemically transformed over iodine crystals
chemist Louis Daguerre in 1839. in a dark room, making it light-sensitive. The image
“There’s no such thing as a daguerreotype store, is developed in sunlight through a red filter, fixed
so I had to get lots of special equipment, and adapt, in sodium thiosulfate solution (aka ‘hypo’), and
modify, or hack a lot of existing equipment,” says gilded using gold chloride solution and a blowtorch.
Danforth, 26. And that’s the easy part.
It took six months to accumulate all the para- A daguerreotype shines with light reflected from
phernalia and chemicals, before he even began to its mirror-polished surface, through a fine powder
shoot. And in a caffeinated society where instant of silver detail, but the delicate image can be
gratification is too slow, producing daguerreotypes destroyed by the slightest touch. It must be pro-requires preternatural patience. tected, placed behind glass, and preserved inside a
“Each image can take hours to capture, and you
can pretty much screw it up anywhere down the Opposite: Antique technology captures a computer im-
line,” says Danforth, who lives in Durham, N.C. “It’s age, and the ageless tranquility of rocking chairs.