Shortly after the daguerreotype process was revealed to the public in 1839, Jeremiah Gurney (1812–1895) acquired a rudimentary camera and began experimenting with the first practical method of photography. A jeweler by profession, he gave up that trade in favor of daguerreotypy in 1840 and established one of New York City’s first daguerreotype studios in a building at 189 Broadway. In the years that followed, Gurney built his reputation as one of the city’s leading daguerreotypists. Despite vigorous competition from rivals such as Mathew Brady, Gurney produced daguerreotypes hailed as “nearer to absolute perfection” than those of other camera artists.
In 1851, Gurney founded the American Daguerre Association—the first national organization of photographers. His experiments yielded improvements to the daguerreotype process but also contributed to the acute case of mercury poisoning that sidelined him for several months in 1852. A year later, he captured the first major American prize for daguerreotypes in a contest sponsored by Edward Anthony, owner of the nation’s largest photographic supply company. This was just one of many awards that made Gurney the nation’s most honored photographer.
Widely admired for the beautiful, hand-tinted portraits produced in his studio, Jeremiah Gurney continued to make daguerreotypes until the close of the 1850s, when his practice fully transitioned to paper print photography.
Unless otherwise indicated, all works are by Jeremiah Gurney.
This exhibition was made possible by the American Portrait Gala Endowment.
- Daguerreotype: A direct positive image produced on a sensitized plate of silver-coated copper.
- Applied color: Color pigment added by hand to tint a daguerreotype’s surface.
- Salted paper print: A photograph whose image forms in the fibers of paper coated with a solution of common salt and made light sensitive with a coating of silver nitrate.
- Engraving: A print typically produced from a metal plate on which a design or lettering has been incised.
- Wood engraving: A print produced from a finely detailed design cut into the end grain of a block of wood.
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