Photography as a Threat to Art

When Daguerre, Talbot, and Niepce started the photographic revolution at first it was a curiosity. But by 1839 the Daguerreotypes had their own exhibition. The philosophical arguments were that photography was to be a hand maiden to the arts. In the very early stages only a few saw Photography as a Threat to Art.  After  this stage it was a scientific endeavor which could take proper perspective of still objects but that was all. Just as the Camera Obscura had been used for hundreds of years if not a thousand, it was at first seen as a technical tool to help artist. But there were undertones of distrust among the artistic community.

Photography started its perceived assault on art in the field of portraiture. In the 1830’s artist who made their living painting portrait miniatures were making a living, buy 1858 they were all but extinct. Was it an asteroid? No, it was photography. Why? Cost and speed were the key reasons. The artist who were impacted were finding employment coloring photographs and/or being a Daguerreotype studio. This was an ominous shadow creeping toward the fine arts.

The effort to sit for a Daguerreotype for the image was long and tiresome (but not as long as sitting for a portrait to be painted). It took considerable technical skill to image a good Daguerreotype and of course the equipment was expensive ($50, an average blue collar worker earned $0.33 per day). But in comparison to the multi-session and cost ($5-$10) of the painted portrait, the Daguerreotype with its one sitting and cost of $.25 to $2.00 made it the market king.

Were the alarmist correct? No, but neither were the “Photography won’t challenge the fine arts” folks. Many painters began to use photography as references for both people and landscapes. As photography began its evolution, its future and the future of 2 dimensional art was in question.