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Topic: Daguerreotypes - a mirror with a memory

Is part of topic Striking Poses (Te Papa Exhibition - 12 March 2003 - 01 November 2003)

Daguerreotypes were often called ‘a mirror with a memory’, and were named after their French inventor, Louis Jacques Daguerre. They were photos made on silver-plated copper, and developed with mercury vapour. The resulting reflective surface could be tricky to view.

To make a daguerreotype, the plate needed to be exposed to light for up to thirty seconds – so the sitter had to remain still for this length of time.


In 1850s New Zealand, the cheapest daguerreotypes cost the equivalent of a labourer’s weekly wage and so were only for the wealthy. Just one image could be produced from each plate. This made daguerreotypes precious, and they were often kept in elaborate cases.

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