Young America. The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes. George Eastman House International Center of Photography
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YOUNG AMERICA
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STUDIO
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COLORING
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COLORING

photo of Albert S. Southworth
[Unidentified Woman], ca. 1850. George Eastman House.

Both Southworth and Hawes believed that photography might someday be capable of capturing the colors of nature. Believing in the near perfection of the daguerreotype process, Southworth declared, “This if possible would be a discovery in the fine arts never equaled and never to be surpassed. Then there would be one thing on earth that would be perfection itself.” However, Southworth denounced Levi Hill’s claims to have achieved color in the daguerreotype as an “unmitigated delusion.” “We have many pictures which, in certain lights, reflect the colors of the prism partially blended, and many of different tints; but we assure our friends that the colors of nature were never, in a single instance, transferred by Daguerreotype, and that the pretended discoveries of taking the colors are an imposition upon the public, a trick unworthy of any one claiming the appellation of artist.”

Although the daguerreotype is monochromatic, it could be made to appear as if in natural color by the hand application of pigments. Many people requested the coloring of their daguerreotypes, but Southworth advised,“Those who know little of pictures may sometimes be unable to recognize the face of a friend, unless it is painted, but a perfect daguerreotype will surely be injured by any attempt to color it.” He found the common coloring attempts of other studios less than artistic, saying, “The habit of coloring indiscriminately, of powdering the plate with carmine, blue or yellow, and daubing to imitate jewelry, shows great lack of taste both in those who make and those purchasers who require such pictures.”

The studio took pride in their coloring. “All persons, without exception, pronounce our Coloring unequalled. Artists say it is as true to nature as it can possibly be.” Josiah Hawes had been a painter of miniatures and oil portraits before taking up the daguerreotype. He and sometimes his wife, Nancy, did the coloring for the studio. Their elaborate coloring technique resembles that most commonly found in English and French daguerreotypes and is predominantly applied to giving background illusions of landscape features or cloud effects.

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