Snapshot in Time

Restoration experts make a startling discovery that an 1848 daguerreotype hides a wealth of insight into life in a pre-war riverside town

In 2006, conservator Ralph Wiegandt flipped on his Zeiss Axio stereomicroscope and peered at the surface of an 1848 daguerreotype. The Cincinnati Public Library had entrusted him to clean its prize possession, a rare five-and-a-half-foot-long, eight-plate panorama photograph of the city’s waterfront. Working out of the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, he found the image’s surface strewn with corrosive particles, as he had expected. But at the same time extraordinary details from the image jumped out at him: letters on a billboard, a face in a window.Read more »

The Camera Opens Its Eye On America

A special supplement prepared for American Heritage

It is on a day in the autumn of 1839, although the exact date was never recorded, that the scales fall away from the eyes of history, that the first primitive camera stares out at the American scene, that we see for the first time neither interpretation nor imagination, but the exact face of the world.