Google anything today, and you will see a Google Doodle honoring the 224th birthday of French photographic innovator Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre. Google Daguerre, and you will find the Guardian UK and others describing the Frenchman as a physicist. That’s really stretching it! Daguerre was a showman, a French P.T. Barnum, a famous theatrical illusionist and the operator of the renowned Paris Diorama, the multi-media extravaganza entertainment of its day. Far from being a respected man of science, Daguerre the showman could not even get a serious audience with the French Academy of Sciences. Nor did he invent the process which bears his name. Nicéphore Niépce, who died before the process was made public, did that. And Britain’s William Fox Talbot had been successfully experimenting with an alternative process for years. Talbot was an amateur, a gentleman scientist with little need of personal recognition, and no financial need. But Daguerre was a hustler, a businessman, and hungry for profit and recognition. He joined with the respected man of science, François Arago, who was able to present the improvements Daguerre had made to the Niépce process to the Academy. The French government provided Daguerre with a nice pension, and announced the invention of the Daguerreotype: a technological gift to the world from France, and a cultural coup in their on-going post-Napoleonic cold war with the British. Daguerre became known as the father of photography, and nothing has ever been the same since.
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