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A Curious and Ingenious Art: Reflections on Daguerreotypes at Harvard Hardcover – November 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Daguerreotypy, an early photographic technique that captured images on a silver-coated copper plate, was an important vehicle for documenting achievements in science and art in the 19th century. Banta, a curator in the Harvard University Library Preservation Center, has studied Harvard's daguerreotypes as part of a recent project to assess the condition and scope of the university's holdings. Mostly, her book discusses the subjects of the pictures, along with some coverage of preservation concerns. Banta is highly effective in relating the daguerreotype process to the interests and social positions of those in the pictures, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, James McNeill Whistler, Henry James, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The importance of the daguerreotype in recording achievements in medicine and astronomy is also discussed. A brief inventory of Harvard's daguerreotypes is a nice addition. Highly recommended for academic history of photography collections.DEric Linderman, Ida Rupp P.L., Port Clinton, OH
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.


“Banta’s study saves daguerreotypy from being tossed of as an archival curio by keeping her project relatively simple and steering clear of convoluted aesthetics. She refrains from alienating the reader by refusing to participate in the shop-talk that all too often accompanies artistic discussions.”—Nicole Duclos, Rain Taxi

“Banta is highly effective in relating the daguerreotype process to the interests and social positions of those in the pictures, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, James McNeill Whistler, Henry James, and Harriet Beecher Stoowe… Highly recommended for academic history of photography collections.”—Eric Lindermann, Library Journal


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Iowa Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0877457247
  • ISBN-13: 978-0877457244
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.7 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,388,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The best daguerreotype portraits are some of the most striking photographic likenesses you'll ever see. Talk about verisimilitude: Those who posed for daguerreotypes in the last century seem about to start speaking, or to step right out of the image. The pictures are practically holographic in their three-dimensionality, and you feel you could almost reach out and touch the faces captured therein so long ago. The generally small size of the images doesn't detract from the experience; in fact, like the finest Mughal miniatures, the reverse is true. As you draw close to the frame, you find yourself entering the daguerreotype's exquisite little world. The experience is enhanced by the thought that, since daguerreotypes are positive images, the photograph before you is the only one in existence.
A daguerreotype's power is greatest when you're seeing the actual image before your eyes, of course, but the reproductions in this beautifully designed coffee-table book, many of which are reproduced in actual size, are so stunning that you're truly getting the next best thing. Here you'll find likenesses of some of the most famous figures to traipse through the 19th century -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jenny Lind, Tom Thumb, James Whistler, Dorothea Dix.
The author, Melissa Banta, a kind of curator-at-large at Harvard, was not content simply to ferret out all daguerreotypes then existing at Harvard (over 450 images, some of which are seeing the light of day for the first time here). She delved into the often compelling stories behind each image's creation, life history, and curation.
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