Young America. The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes. George Eastman House International Center of Photography
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photo of Albert S. Southworth

[Miss Hodges of Salem], ca. 1848-1850.
George Eastman House.

Albert Sands Southworth expressed his thoughts on what should be the goal of every photographer: “You want to make a picture so that every time that you take it up you will see new beauties in it.” The portrait daguerreotypes produced by Southworth & Hawes have such a quality. Without knowing the identity of those pictured, we recognize that the individuality of each has been perceived with sympathy and rendered with mastery of process. This was accomplished when the technology of photography was limited and the conventions of photographic portraiture were not yet established.

Southworth & Hawes strove to excel in the making of daguerreotype likenesses. They prided themselves in the wide variety of portrait styles they claimed to originate, such as the vignette or “Heads simply,” as they termed it. “Children’s and Infants’ Pictures” were a specialty, as were “Likenesses of the Deceased.” “Groups” were a special challenge for daguerreotypists. Southworth & Hawes worked to arrange groups “in a picturesque manner and give a pleasing representation of life scenes.” They gave great emphasis to pictorial values beyond mere pose and composition:

Our plates are the largest, most highly polished, and have the most perfect surface; our pictures have a surpassing delicacy of finish; there is no sameness in our positions and use of the light, it being adapted to the design of showing every face in its best view. As far as possible we imitate nature in her most beautiful forms, by a mellow blending of lights and shades, an artistic effect of drapery and figure, a pleasing air, forcible expression, and startling animation; representing thought, action, and feeling or soul.

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

Southworth & Hawes calculated their portraiture to exploit all of the particular beauties of the daguerreotype, which are unlike those of any other photographic process. The studio’s advertisements declared: “This establishment offers to the admirers of perfect Daguerreotypes the highest inducements for patronage. From the earliest introduction of the Photographic Art to America the exertions of the partners of this firm have been unequalled to perfect it in its application to every agreeable and useful purpose.”

They considered themselves artists working in the daguerreotype and worked for those who had the requisite taste and culture to appreciate their achievement: “We are proud to acknowledge the compliments and patronage of the best artists, amateurs, and judges of the Art in Boston and vicinity…. Our past conduct and experience we offer to them, to the public, and to all, as a pledge that we will excel. Our customers shall have the best of work. We will deserve and claim by right the name of our establishment, “The Artists’ Daguerreotype Rooms.”

Southworth & Hawes never employed others to operate the camera, as did such other famous daguerreotype studios as that of John Plumbe or Mathew Brady. Thus we may look upon their images with the knowledge that the eye, mind, and hand of each are represented in every work.

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