The daguerreotype, the world’s first successful photographic technique, was introduced in France in 1839. The technique was quickly disseminated and by late 1839, practitioners in the United States were employing it with great success. This exhibition’s earliest works, from the first months of photography’s development, in 1839-40, reflect the uncertain excitement of discovery fraught with the inevitable successes and failures associated with new experimentation.
As the technology swiftly advanced, these pioneers went on to capture the diversity of America’s people, cities and landscapes. Portrait photography became common by about 1843, as studios opened in major cities and self-taught entrepreneurs traveled the nation’s back roads. The result was an unparalleled vision of the nation’s people, from its richest citizens to the working class.