Technologies

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Unidentified Photographer (U.S.): The Telegrapher

Daguerreotype, Quarter-plate size ( 3.25 x 4.25 inches), circa 1853

The telegraph apparatus shown consists of a key used for transmission (left) and an embossing telegraph receiver to the right. There was likely a message embossed in the dots and dashes of Morse Code on the paper strip held by the subject of this portrait, but we can only guess at what it might have said. The telegraph, photography, railroad and the steamship were considered the wonders of the modern world in the middle of the 19th century. These inventions triggered revolutionary changes in society. This daguerreotype shows a young man proud of being in the technological vanguard of his day--as one of the first people to be "wired" through history's first electronic communications network.

As an occupational daguerreotype, this image provides us with more information than an ordinary portrait. Its brilliant clarity and dynamic pose communicate something of importance to the sitter, something he wanted people in the future to know about him. And the magic works: the daguerreotype vanquishes the separation of 150 years as effectively as the telegraph conquered the physical distance of people separated by a continent. "A Sender of Messages!" is the message he sends... and the message we receive.


The Telegrapher was shown at the Southeast Museum of Photography in the 1993 exhibition "The Secret Pleasures of Daguerreotypes," and was featured on the poster for the exhibition. The image was included in the Smithsonian Institution's landmark daguerreotype exhibit, "Secrets of the Dark Chamber" and is illustrated in the book of the same name (Smithsonian Institution Press/National Museum of American Art: 1995).



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