The importance of the Daguerreotype?


The importance of the Daguerreotype is evident in the work of John Ruskin. His passion for this form of photography is apparent in his love of using it to capture architecture. He considers:

‘Daguerreotypes taken by this vivid sunlight are glorious things.  It is very nearly the same thing as carrying off the palace itself; every chip of stone and stain is there, and of course there is no mistake about proportions.’

Here, Ruskin appears to touch upon the technologies ability to render something more natural than a simple drawing or painting. He brings credit to Benjamin’s consideration that there is something alluring about the act of photography and that its attention to detail is the pull factor that encourages interpretation and lends photography a unique artistic merit.

Ruskin’s use of the Daguerreotype is particularly interesting as the act of making them-and their new ability to capture detail falls in with Ruskin’s beliefs of the nature of art and architecture. ‘In the Lamp of Memory’, Ruskin asserts that: ‘I would rather have, then, our ordinary dwelling houses built to last, and built to be lovely…with such differences as might suit and express each man’s character and occupation and partly his history.’

The Daguerreotype therefore represented a new mode of expressing detail and individuality that previous art could not-for both the photographer and the viewer. Ruskin’s excitement captures well the groundbreaking nature of this mode of expression and its importance in the context of the wider arts. These themes would have lasting importance as the debate on the nature of photography progressed throughout the twentieth century and leads us to consider the groundbreaking nature of this radical new technology.


Ruskin,John, ‘The Lamp of Memory’, (Penguin Books,2008),p.8

Shepard, Jen, ‘More Valuable than any sketch’, <>

Image sourced from the Lancaster Ruskin Library.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: