Eight years ago, it was discovered that some of the earliest daguerreotypes ever taken were fading away before our very eyes. Given the historical significance of these photographs, watching them deteriorate over time was unacceptable. So, in an attempt to save them, George Eastman House has enlisted the help of the University of Rochester.
Daguerreotype photography received its name from its inventor, painter Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre. It was invented in 1839 and became the first successful medium of photography.
George Eastman House has a collection of over 5,000 daguerreotypes dating as far back as 150-years, and although they do look quite beautiful even as they decay, the museum was not about to let these fade away entirely. That’s where the University of Rochester and their nanotechnology lab came into play.
Looking closely (and by closely, we mean scanning electron microscope closely) at the daguerreotypes, researchers discovered that these pictures were actually biologically active surfaces. Every photo they looked at was colonized by fungi that were damaging the surface.
So far, the best preservation option that the research has yielded is using a special air-tight housing and Argon gas. And although it’s neither a cheap nor necessarily permanent fix, it will keep the daguerreotypes from deteriorating for now as researchers take more time to discover all of the factors associated with daguerreotype decay.
To learn more about the history of this amazing art form and what is being done to preserve the massive collection of daguerreotypes at George Eastman House, check out the video at the top or head over to the Democrat and Chronicle for the full story.