Southworth & Hawes

Posted in History of Photography, Photoblog, Photography by Rollfilm on September 12, 2006

Southworth & Hawes was an early photographic firm in Boston, 1843-1863. Its partners, Albert Sands Southworth (1811-1894) and Josiah Johnson Hawes (1808-1901), have been hailed as the first great American masters of photography, whose work elevated photographic portraits to the level of fine art. Their images are prominent in every major book and collection of early American photography.

Southworth & Hawes worked exclusively in the daguerreotype process. Working with large 8×6-inch plate sizes, their images are brilliant, mirror-like, and finely-detailed. Writing in the Photographic and Fine Art Journal, August 1855, the contemporary Philadelphia daguerreotypist Marcus A. Root paid them this praise: “Their style, indeed, is peculiar to themselves; presenting beautiful effects of light and shade, and giving depth and roundness together with a wonderful softness or mellowness. These traits have achieved for them a high reputation with all true artists and connoisseurs.” He further noted that the firm had devoted their time chiefly to daguerreotypes, with little attention to photography on paper.

source: wikipedia

The Daguerreotype Process

Albert Southworth wrote about the daguerreotype process for the general public to serve the double purpose of instruction and the gratification of curiosity:

“Daguerreotypes are made upon a surface of silver, plated on a body of copper, about the thickness of a half-dime. When the plate is polished smooth and clean, it becomes a blackground or black board [by reflection] upon which to make the picture. In a dark room it receives upon its surface by evaporation a compound of Iodine, Bromine and Chlorine, forming an even and perfect [light-sensitive] coating. The first light admitted to the coated plate is the desired image made by the light in the Camera Obscura. The light affects the combined elements composing the surface instantaneously, and in exact proportion to the amount admitted. The plate is then placed over a box containing a moderately heated cup of quicksilver [metallic mercury]. The vapor of the quicksilver passes readily through the compound surface of the plate just in proportion to the light acted upon it, and becomes attached to, or amalgamated with the silver. This forms the lights of the picture, and is the white chalk upon the blackboard. The time of the exposure of the plate to the coating, to the image of light, and to the mercury, can only be learned by actual experiments. After the picture is fully developed, it is immersed in a solution of hyposulphite of soda, which does not affect the mercury or black-ground but removes the compound coating. It is then submitted to a process [in a heated bath of gold-chloride] whereby the whole surface of the plate is coated with a leaf of pure gold, which protects it as a varnish does a painting [the plate is then washed and dried]. To secure Daguerreotypes from injury, they are sealed under glass, with a border between, to prevent the glass from resting upon, or chafing them [and are then placed into cases or frames].”

Southworth & Hawes employed only natural daylight descending through a large overhead skylight, moderated by a diffusing curtain. The exposure time for most of their portraits was eight to twelve seconds, which required a stabilizing headrest, skillfully hidden from view. For portraits of children, who were likely to move, artistic shading effects were sacrificed by admitting greater light to the subject, requiring shorter exposures of one to five seconds.

source: International Center of Photography

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The image “,1.0&wid=800&cell=800,800&cvt=jpeg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

source: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


3 Responses

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  1. Suresh Gundappa said, on September 12, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    As a serious photographer I find this article very educative and Informative. thank you so much for this wonderful blog. Not to mention photos are fabulous!

  2. Suzan said, on September 13, 2006 at 11:22 pm

    Amazing, so intriguing! And not only the process and the actual print, but also the characters on it!

  3. Michael Kirste said, on September 14, 2006 at 1:08 am

    Very intriguing portraits. It seems not only the process but the “technical requirements” during the actual shooting produce a special look here. Great article René.

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