Mexican artists are bringing daguerreotype photography back
1838 marked the beginning of a long-forgotten art invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre - Photo: Carlos Mejía/EL UNIVERSAL

Mexican artists are bringing daguerreotype photography back

02/05/2019
17:22
Sonia Sierra
Mexico City
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Mexican photographers have been working to produce and recover photographs with 19th-century aesthetics and techniques

180 years ago, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre conceived and invented the daguerreotype, and though this and other techniques had been explored by photographers years before, 1838 marked the beginning of a long-forgotten art.

In order to make a daguerreotype, one must fix an image by exposing it to light. The techniques developed by Daguerre, W.H. Fox Talbot, and Sir John Hershel, among others, have little to do with the modern custom of taking pictures with our smartphones and uploading them to Instagram.

In Mexico, a group of photographers has been working for over a decade to produce and recover photographs with 19th-century aesthetics and techniques. Through complex and arduous processes, these artists are using wooden cameras and expensive materials to produce daguerreotypes.

The artists must also observe some extreme protective measures since the exposure to fumes during the production of daguerreotypes can be lethal.

These artists have workshops in Mexico City and Puebla, where they purchase materials, spaces, and instruments to produce original works.

Following their work in recent years, Mexico’s “Fototeca Nacional” (National Photo Library) in Pachuca agreed to present an exhibition of these modern art pieces made with 19th century techniques to commemorate the 180th anniversary of photography.

The work of eight photographers is now being displayed at the Photo Library in an exhibition called Hablando en plata” (Speaking Silver), which gathers 61 pieces by Arturo Talavera and Paty Banda, from the Panoptic Workshop; Ángela Arziniaga, Everardo Rivera, Balam Ponce, and José Loreto Morales, from the “Gabinete Fotográfico” (Print Shop) group; Rafael Galván, from the “La Línea del Horizonte” workshop; and Arturo Fuentes, who teaches photography.

These artists have set out to recreate some of the most ancient photography techniques, which are far more complex, expensive, and risky than modern techniques, due to their use of bromine, iodine, and mercury.

In order to create a daguerreotype, one must undertake a long and often frustrating process that involves some serious health risks. One must be equipped with a gas mask and an extractor for the fumes, since mercury, bromine, and iodine can be lethal in gaseous form.

These photographers also have ancient cameras that they have acquired and repaired over the years. In his study in Mexico City, Fuentes has several wooden cameras to take different types of pictures.

The exhibition will remain open until June 9 at the Photo Library.
 

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