When people first saw daguerreotypes, they thought they were looking at magic. Invented in 1839, by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, it was the first widely used technique for making photographs. The images, which were made on highly polished, silver-plated copper plates, were beautiful but elusive. Held at the right angle, they were precise likenesses that seemed to float in space. Held at the wrong angle, the image disappeared altogether.
The daguerreotype, however, was as dangerous and difficult to produce as it was alluring to see. The preparation of the chemicals and plates and the processes of exposure and development were time-consuming and involved the use of noxious chemicals. Not surprisingly, the daguerreotype fell into almost complete disuse as soon as cheaper, cleaner, and quicker techniques appeared on the scene. Almost.
For over 170 years, artists like Takashi Arai have been keeping the daguerreotype alive. This video, which shows him making one, shows the slow and careful process of producing one. Just as importantly, it captures the meditative and poetic nature of the work.