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Explore the F & P Daguerreotype, The Cincinnati Panorama of 1848
July 19, 2011 8:12 AM   Subscribe

In September of 1848, Charles Fontayne and William Porter took a series of 8 panoramic views of Cincinnati by the then still new daguerreian process, capturing a little more than two miles of the riverfront. In skilled hands, daguerreotype can capture an amazing resolution, so much that modern technology is required to view the full image. In 2007, the 1848 Cincinnati panorama was restored, utilizing a stereo microscope, finding so much detail that the eight 6 ½ inch by 8 ¼ inch plates could be enlarged up to 170 by 20 feet without losing clarity. In May of this year, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County put the daguerreotype plates on display with touch-screen computer displays to see the fine details. But if you can't make it to Cincinnati, the library has a new website where you can navigate and zoom in for a glimpse of life along the riverfront. [via mefi projects]

Even though the full detail of the plates have only recently been made apparent, the value of such a historic record was discussed at detail in a 1947 Literary Club presentation (PDF, via Sandman Cincinnati, which has links to the plates as PDFs).

Since the detailed restoration in 2007, the enhanced navigation and discussions of the details have been posted online. The University of Rochester has more information on four of the eight plates. Also linked above the break, Wired Magazine has an article on the technology behind the restoration, plus a navigable daguerreotype plate feature. The Photography History blog has a stitched panorama at a lower resolution, with a link to Rochester's really high resolution images.
posted by filthy light thief (29 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously
posted by Floydd at 8:22 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


A large-format camera in skilled hands is capable of capturing incredible detail. Digital doesn't come close (yet).
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:25 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Were these taken on a Sunday or something?
posted by rahnefan at 8:25 AM on July 19, 2011


Were these taken on a Sunday or something?
rahnefan, the first line in the "a 1947 Literary Club presentation" link is "On a sunny Sunday afternoon in September 1848..."
posted by Floydd at 8:30 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is really awesome. Bookmarking for later detailed perusal.
posted by jillithd at 8:30 AM on July 19, 2011


I tell you Floydd, I read it but missed the word "Sunday!"
posted by rahnefan at 8:33 AM on July 19, 2011


Continuous-tone rules!
posted by Thorzdad at 8:37 AM on July 19, 2011


This is really spectacular. Glad it was posted even if it is a double. I love the website. Will mess around with that for hours.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:37 AM on July 19, 2011


Were these taken on a Sunday or something?

I'm guessing the lack of people has to do with the long exposure time.
posted by swift at 8:37 AM on July 19, 2011


this amazes me :)
posted by puny human at 8:44 AM on July 19, 2011


Huh. Queen City Lard Oil Factory.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 8:45 AM on July 19, 2011


Thanks for the previous, Floydd, I should have searched a bit more. Anyway, none of these links are from the prior post, and this one features the result of the fund raising efforts, along with information on the restoration process and more details about the images.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:47 AM on July 19, 2011


filthy light thief: “In skilled hands, daguerreotype can capture an amazing resolution, so much that modern technology is required to view the full image.”

Benny Andajetz: “A large-format camera in skilled hands is capable of capturing incredible detail. Digital doesn't come close (yet).”

It's even more remarkable when you consider the fact that pixels were still two millimeters across before 16-bit was invented by Sir Alphonse Bit in 1985. To be capable of 1080p HD, those early daguerreotype cameras had to be more than seven feet across. It took very skilled hands indeed to handle a seven-foot camera, especially considering that it wasn't until at least the 1930s that they added touchscreen interfaces.
posted by koeselitz at 8:49 AM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, the 1947 Literary Club presentation is 35 pages details about and in the plates.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:50 AM on July 19, 2011


My favorite Point of Interest: Man With Cart And Horse In The River (Near Kentucky Shore)
posted by Mick at 8:54 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Interesting that Cincinnati was founded in 1788, chartered as a village in 1802, and only became an incorporated city in 1819. These images were made in 1848 - every structure you see was built in the previous 50 years, most less than that.

The incredible pace that early America grew at was astonishing.
posted by Xoebe at 9:11 AM on July 19, 2011


This is super cool. Will review more when I have time.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:16 AM on July 19, 2011


This post is amazing. I'm additionally amazed at another thing. In a lot of "photos from the past" the common comment is how little advertising there is. In this one, there seems like a lot of advertising. Or maybe not so much advertising as just putting labels on things. Plus the fact that the perspective is different. Head on shots of buildings rather than the "down the street" you normally find of city life.

It's even more remarkable when you consider the fact that pixels were still two millimeters across before 16-bit was invented by Sir Alphonse Bit in 1985.

I had to read this sentence 3 times before I realized it could be a joke, as was revealed by the rest of the comment. Well played.
posted by DU at 9:30 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Two photos of the artifact and kiosk installation in the Cincinnati Room at the Main Branch.
posted by Mick at 9:43 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suppose daguerreotypes are always large format and always first generation : the piece of silver you hold in your hand was touched by the original photons. They also have a very interesting look, being on bare metal. it's a shame the process is insanely dangerous and toxic to the photographer because you have to hold the silver plate in mercury vapor to develop it, and you really don't want hot mercury in your house or your lungs.
posted by w0mbat at 9:56 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Darn it, I can not get the U of Rochester's high rez scan to download. I sure would enjoy seeing their 4.2Gb image of one of these plates. I would really love a 42Gb image even more.

That is a really distinctive feature of daguerrotypes and other early processes. Slow, insensitive photo emulsions take a long exposure. If you're using a large format camera that needs a tripod and a locked down POV, you might as well stop it way down to get maximum sharpness and huge depth of field.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:32 AM on July 19, 2011


If you're using a large format camera that needs a tripod and a locked down POV, you might as well stop it way down to get maximum sharpness and huge depth of field.

That was the idea. Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and some other photographers even had a club name Group f/64. Adams devised the Zone System partly to enhance the effect.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:57 AM on July 19, 2011


Yeah, my art school classes were big on the f/64s, and the Zone System was the most important technical photo skill I ever learned. Lots of people at my school used big cameras up to 8x10, it was always nice seeing new work in old, large formats. Even today in the digital age, my old school is still pretty focused on large format photography.

Oh I should tell you a story back from my art school days. Our local camera store sold a lot of optical scientific equipment and specialized recording cameras. One day I came into the store and they were displaying a huge photo print of the city skyline. It was a demo of recording film in a subminiature 8mm Minox C spy camera. It was so sharp, I couldn't believe a negative that small could be blown up that much and had any detail. The photographer showed me his rig: a Minox camera mounted on a Linhof tripod, which would normally be used with a view camera up to about 8x10.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:12 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fantastic post. I have been waiting for this website to launch since I first read about them restoring this daguerreotype. What a great way to step back in time. So much of the country was still wild at that point in time.
posted by jnnla at 2:09 PM on July 19, 2011


Oh.. I forgot to mention. Aforesaid "huge photo print" was 3x4 feet. Yeah, that is huge for a Minox 8mm negative.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:02 PM on July 19, 2011


3x4 feet is crazy! There aren't many 35mm slides I'd try to take that big. (Some of those Minoxes had really good glass, though.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:57 PM on July 19, 2011


FYI: we've added the ability to add your own Points of Interest and share them with others.
posted by Mick at 4:52 PM on July 20, 2011


Great job Mick and team. I will definitely be swinging by the library to check this out in person.
posted by mmascolino at 12:45 PM on July 21, 2011


If you're using a large format camera that needs a tripod and a locked down POV, you might as well stop it way down to get maximum sharpness and huge depth of field.

You don't get maximum sharpness at the smallest aperture, although you do get maximum depth of field. That's because diffraction problems increase the further you stop down.
The sharpest image (of an in-focus object) happens somewhere around the middle, like f 8.0. The difference is pretty subtle though.

As the aperture gets physically smaller, a higher percentage of the photons hit the edge of it and end up off course, reducing sharpness.
But when the aperture is wide open, you get problems with the imperfect refraction of the lens. There's a sweet spot in the middle.

posted by w0mbat at 10:45 AM on July 22, 2011


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