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Daguerreotypomania

March 25, 2012 Comments off

In his cartoon La Daguerreotypomanie (1839), Théodore Maurisset shows how the industrialization of photography and its mass availability transformed people’s lives in Paris. The camera has turned the city into a spectacle that is simultaneously being captured by it. Maurisset’s image suggests that from then on “life will never be the same.” The engravers are hanging from the gallows—they might as well—and their tools, inks, pens and paper, are thrown on the ground on the front right side of the picture. The train in the back is carrying cameras in place of its cars, horses are loaded with them, people are schlepping them on carts and everywhere itinerant photographers have set up their tripods. There is a group of people dancing around a large smoking camera. Businesses have all put cameras on their rooftops, balloons are flying over the city taking photographs, and loads of cameras are being shipped overseas. The city is has become a set that is posing for the cameras, everything and everyone is waiting to be photographed and photograph others. The sun has turned into the watcher, the ever-present, all-seeing eye that draws the images of life on the sensitive plates of the camera. The image suggests that the mania for representation is inseparable from the phantom of surveillance, seeing and being seen are two sides of the same coin. Maurisset “depicts photography as a commercial product and a microcosm of industrialization itself” suggests Roberta McGrath. It is with the mass availability of photography that industrialization becomes integrated into everyday life. The camera, unlike other commodities, turned the consumer into a producer whose production expands the margins of industry and the market. Mechanical production now expanded beyond the walls of factories and became a tool in the hands of citizens. In the center of the image stands the Susse Frères’ commercial studio/showroom, that cuts the image in half, it suggests that the studio has become a site of production, at the “center of the cartoon and at the heart of modern life” in McGrath’s words. The camera on top of the studio is also a clock that tells the time, perhaps commenting on the synchronization of the time of the life and that of labor with the introduction of the cameras.

La Daguerreotypomanie, Theodore Maurisset, December 1839, Lithograph

In Johannes David’s Orbita probitatis ad Christi imitationem (1601), crucifixion, its representation and dispersion are concurrent and form a single entity, similarly, La Daugerrotypomanie sets the urban life, its documentation and representation as parts of a single body.

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