Even as the art of engraving and sculpture has improved under the criticisms of the press, so must that of Photography.—At the present day it is viewed, too much, in the light of a mere mechanical occupation to arrive at any high degree of excellence. In too many instances men enter into it because they can get nothing else to do; without the least appreciation of its merits as an art of exquisite refinement, without the taste to guide them, and without the love and ambition to study more than its practical application, neglecting the sciences intimately connected with it, and leaving entirely out of the question those of drawing, painting, and sculpture, sister arts, a knowledge of which must tend to elevate the taste and direct the operator into the more classical and elegant walks of his profession.
Daguerreotyping is comparatively rude to what it will be a few years hence. The pictures now produced stand in relation to those that will be executed within a quarter of a century, very little better than the ancient Egyptian paintings compared with the beautiful works of the present day, or the early copper engravings of Germany with the exquisite steel productions of our own times. We look forward to a period not far distant, when our best Daguerreotypists will wonder how they could, for so long a time, be content with the specimens of their art they now put forth, as much as they do at this day at the shadows of six and eight years ago.
But a far different feeling must exist among them than that entertained to be productive of the result we predict. In all our intercourse with Daguerreotypists we have found but two who are enthusiastic lovers of the art; and the greatest ambition we detect is a desire to produce a good picture so far as the present process will permit—very few, if any, experiments are made to improve the whole system. We have never yet seen a perfect picture, and the fault lies with all the various manipulations in a more or less degree. These are to be corrected only by the most careful and intense study, more than the art has ever yet received from an American operator. We think one fact will illustrate the correctness of our assertion. We know of one of our best artists who frequently gets into difficulty from the imperfect working of his material and is quite incapable of discovering the cause, and yet he professes to despise what he calls—and what is partially—the theory of the art; quite ignorant, probably, of the fact that it is to theoretical analysis and deduction he is indebted for his art. Had Daguerre and Niepce been ignorant of the sciences of Chemistry and Philosophy, they never would have discovered photography; and as yet none can assert that the latter is perfect, it must be conceded that a more intimate investigation of chemistry and philosophy in connection with photography will lead to new discoveries of the most surprising results.
The philosophers of Europe are daily toiling in search of the still hidden principles of the art, and every year brings forth from their laboratories some new application. But why should we wait for new developments to be wafted to us across the Atlantic, when we have from our extensive practical knowledge of the business so many advantages for noticing its various phases, developing and applying them, and successfully experimenting.
Since the time of Professors Morse and Diaper’s experiments, what new discoveries—apart from various “Quick stuffs”— have been made by our ten thousand Daguerreotypists? None; at least none have come to light. If any have been made, we must deprecate the selfishness which induces the miserly hoarding of such discoveries. It is a great mistake to suppose that individual benefit can result from such a course; it is only by free communication and interchange that permanent advantage can be derived from them. Many may be drawn to an operator’s room by the announcement of a new discovery, but many more will think and judge for themselves, and consider it a mere catch-penny affair, unless they are assured of its adoption by others. Thus we have heard numbers reason, and in this age of so much deception it is quite plausible.
Photography must assume a higher sphere and maintain it. It is a noble science, and as such it must be regarded and preserved. If personal considerations do not now make men sensible of this, they soon will exist, for we feel assured, from the eagerness with which our “History and practice of the art of Photography” has been sought after within the last few months, that the minds of Daguerreotypists are awakening to the importance of knowing something more than the mere mechanical portion of their art.