Photographic process invented by J. M. Louis Daguerre in 1839 and presented that same year to the French Chamber of Deputies and the Academy of Science by François Arago. Daguerreotypy allows us to fix an image obtained in a dark chamber on a metal plate. As with Nicéphore Niepce’s heliography, daguerreotypy is a photographic process with no negative image. However, unlike heliography, Daguerre’s invention was reliable enough to be marketed.
In a speech that made him famous , French scientist and politician François Arago convinced his peers of the geniality of this invention and the need to acknowledge its “public utility”. Daguerreotypes immediately became public domain; they were also an immediate marketing success. In France, it led to a period of “daguerreotypomania” [Fig. 1]. In 1841, roughly two thousand cameras [Fig. 2] and half a million plates were sold in France alone. Soon, the first photographic studios were opened: portraits could be taken in less than a minute, after early technical teething problems (especially a very long posing time) were overcome. In short, Daguerre’s invention radically revolutionised the way photography was made, by introducing the technical image.
Portrait was indeed one the most important practices related to daguerreotypy [Fig. 3]. Marvelled at the precision and clarity of the image produced by the daguerreotype, early customers of photographic studios tried to immortalise their image and that of their relatives and close friends. For obvious economic reasons (in the days before competition between photographers, as well as technical development lowered the price of daguerreotypes), most of the customers of these studios belonged to the bourgeoisie. Soon after the invention of the daguerreotype, these images became an essential staple in any bourgeois household. Family portraits (which frequently included daguerreotypes of recently deceased relatives) were both a status statement and a way to create a genealogical gallery of images that might somehow compensate for the lack of illustrious ancestors. This kind of daguerreotype thus became a specific pictorial tradition which is associated to portrait painting (particularly to miniature portraits).
Travel photography was another domain in which daguerreotypes were used. By immortalising landscapes and monuments, daguerreotypes contributed to the dissemination of images of the world and were linked to the Grand Tour or Orientalism vogues. Several albums containing daguerreotypes (reproduced as lithographs or aqua-fortis, for instance) were soon published, as Noël Marie Paymal Lerebours’s Excursions daguerriennes: vues et monuments les plus remarquables du globe (1842) [Fig. 4]. Some publishers did not hesitate and added human figures to them: these were rarely captured in travel daguerreotypes due to their long posing time. This, as well as the impossibility of reproducing a daguerreotype from a negative image, accounted for the gradual decadence of the process, despite its initial success in many countries like the United States. Daguerreotypes depended on graphic techniques that questioned image automatism. They were fragile and irreproducible, and were gradually replaced by other processes from 1855.
 Arago, François et al., Rapport sur le daguerréotype, La Rochelle, Rumeur des Âges, 1995.