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the photographer

Rob McElroy currently lives and works in Buffalo, NY as a daguerreotypist and photographer, where he has a studio, research laboratory, and one of the few, if not only, permanent galleries in the world designed exclusively for the display of daguerreotypes.

He has been quietly and diligently researching, experimenting, and perfecting the process of daguerreotypy for the past 12 years, in order to achieve his stated goal of achieving a uniformly-polished, evenly-sensitized (from edge-to-edge) daguerreotype plate — that has a full range of tones, and is predictable and consistent from one plate to the next. Rob says that, "polishing the daguerreotype plate to a perfect mirror-like surface is the key to producing a beautiful blemish-free image. Polishing also determines how evenly the plate will sensitize, how large a contrast range the plate will be able to reproduce, and whether or not the plate will be able to achieve bright white tones (the highlights), deep blacks (the shadows) and a full range of tones in between. The polishing method I use — is a method I invented after hundreds of hours of trial, error, and research over a period of many years. With the utilization of modern power tools, you can attain a level of perfection and predictability that hasn’t been achieved since the 1850s."

Rob has also achieved a few unique firsts with the daguerreotype process. He was the first person to expose a daguerreotype using electronic flash, and many of the current images in his portfolio were produced using it. The electronic flash also allowed him to be the first person to stop-action on a daguerreotype plate, something that wasn't possible in the 1850s, or before the advent of powerful studio flash units. His custom-designed and built — candid daguerreian camera, allows him to make hand-held daguerreotypes without the use of a tripod. He has also invented a new archival sealing tape for daguerreotypes which prevents air incursion into the enclosure, and which also scavenges-out any harmful atmospheric vapors that may have been trapped inside the enclosure when it was sealed.

He says, "the daguerreotype is my passion, and now that it is under my control, instead of it controlling me, I will be making many new and exciting images that are not only mysterious and beautiful, but that also challenge the limits of the process, producing tones, contrasts and reflections that other photographic processes can’t even hope to achieve.”

Rob McElroy
347 Franklin St.
Buffalo, NY 14202
Studio/gallery:
716-877-3000
idag@pce.net
http://www.cdags.org/?page_id=993

 

 

 

L'article en français

 

Daguerreotypes from
Rob McElroy


Photo © 2009 by Ginny Stewart

 

How did you come to the daguerreotype process?

I have been a professional photographer since 1980, shooting primarily commercial, advertising, magazine, photojournalism, sports and industrial photography assignments. I first learned the daguerreotype process in 1997 at a George Eastman House Historic Process Workshop taught by daguerreian expert Ken Nelson. I was the first of Ken’s many students to make my own daguerreotypes using all of my own equipment, most of which I had to design and build myself. Ken’s advanced class came the next year, and what followed was my singular pursuit, over the past 12 years, to work at achieving a level of technical perfection with the process, that would rival the daguerreian masters of the 1850s, and which would allow me to expose my own artistic vision onto the surface of the most beautiful, life-like and hauntingly mysterious photographic process ever invented, the daguerreotype.

In addition to Ken, I owe much of my inspiration and technical expertise to my friend and colleague, Irving Pobboravsky, the modern master of this most difficult of mediums. No one has advanced the knowledge and understanding of the daguerreotype more than Irv has.


©Rob McElroy

 

Which proportion of your time as a photographer do you devote to the daguerreotype process?

Approximately eighty percent of my time as a photographer is devoted to the daguerreotype process. I still do some commercial photography, but the daguerreotype has been consuming more and more of my time — mostly because of how beautiful the resulting images are, but also because of how difficult the process is. I thrive on challenges, and the daguerreotype is the most difficult and challenging process to master of any photographic process ever invented, bar none.

 

With which equipment do you make these daguerreotypes?

I use modern photographic equipment to make my daguerreotypes so that I can achieve the highest image quality possible. I have never been interested in using 1850s equipment or the reproductions of daguerreian-era equipment that some photographers use. All of my cameras have been modified — in order to accept the special plate holders and camera backs necessary for making daguerreotypes. I shoot with several different cameras. I use an 8" x 10" folding Kodak Master Camera (mostly to make whole-plate daguerreotypes) that was made in the 1940s, and which utilizes a unique plate-holder that can accommodate various image sizes from 3¼" x 4¼" up to 8" x 10". I use a Sinar for my 4" x 5" images, and I custom-designed and built a tilt-and-shift camera for small 2½" x 3½" images. I also built a candid daguerreian camera, utilizing a very fast modern lens, which allows me to make hand-held circular daguerreotypes (no tripod required), as long as the sun is shining brightly.

I designed and built my own sensitizing boxes, mercury chamber, and fume hood, as well as countless other items needed for this long-forgotten process, including an oversized 11" x 14" reversing mirror which allows me to make laterally correct (non-reversed) whole-plate daguerreotypes.


©Rob McElroy

 

Have you established any bridges between your practice as a daguerreotypist and digital photography?

Digital photography is an imaging tool (just like film has been for the past 120 years) that doesn't play much of a direct role with the daguerreotype process unless you use it to make a digital positive of an existing photograph. That positive could then be photographed or contact-printed onto a daguerreotype plate, resulting in a copy daguerreotype. If done correctly, copy daguerreotypes can look more lifelike and three-dimensional than the first generation image. Other than that, digital photography has only a documentary role with respect to the daguerreotype, unless you want to make daguerreotypes of your computer screen, which does work, if you want to transform a purely digital image into a daguerreotype.

 

What are the advantages and drawbacks of the daguerreotype as compared to other photographic processes?

Like a fine painting, the daguerreotype is a one-of-a-kind object. The image is unique and there are no others exactly like it. The plate that is exposed in the camera becomes the final object, and because there is no negative with which to make multiple copies from, the daguerreotype will always be considered a treasured object, rather than a "one of ten or twenty or thirty" limited edition (thus owned by many people). For that reason, the daguerreotype stands alone as the photographic process that is the closest to painting, and (along with painting) transports an artist's vision — from his mind, directly to its final unique representation as a reflective image. The daguerreotype also benefits from having one of the longest tonal-scales, whereby it can capture incredible highlight and shadow detail (which most other processes can't), resulting in super sharp images that seem much more "real" than a paper photograph.

The only drawback a daguerreotype has, is that it can't be readily reproduced, but I see that as an asset, especially for the world's astute collectors of fine photography.

 


©Rob McElroy

   

 

Do you think that certain subjects are particularly suitable for daguerreotypes?

All subjects are suitable for a daguerreotype but the process outshines all other photographic processes, because, when it is done well, it has the idiosyncratic ability to suspend the viewer's capacity to judge what is real and what is imagined. For a brief instant, you think you are in the room with the subject, that they are alive, that you can reach out and touch them. It is a palpable experience that transports the viewer to a place that no paper photograph can even hope to achieve. A daguerreotype can be that good.

 

What are the main features of a good daguerreotype in your opinion?

Aside from the technical ability to achieve a full range of tones on a daguerreotype plate (a bright unsolarized highlight being the hardest thing for most daguerreotypists to achieve), I apply the same criteria to a good daguerreotype as any other photograph — which is, does it ask more questions than it answers?; does it intrigue me?; move me?; evoke an emotion?; make me wonder? If it does, then I would consider it to be a good daguerreotype.

 

How do you see the future of daguerreotypes?

I cannot predict the future. I can only hope that more and more people experience first-hand — the hauntingly beautiful imagery that is the daguerreotype, and from that experience, a new appreciation for this lost art form should emerge. I've never met anyone who disliked the daguerreotype. They fascinate and intrigue everyone who takes the time to look at them.

 

Would you have any advice to young photographers wishing to make daguerreotypes?

Make them not just for the sake of making them, and not just so you can say you made one. Make them because you are passionate about them; because you can see and feel the life-like magic that each unique daguerreotype possesses. Make them because you must make them. Make them because your artistic vision compels you to.

These days, anyone, and I mean anyone, can make a sharp, clear, perfectly exposed, colorfully saturated, nicely composed, well-executed, well-printed digital photograph. Only a handful of dedicated passionate practitioners can make an equivalent daguerreotype. If you want to be unique, make daguerreotypes.

 

voir également sur la daguerréotypie :
daguerreotypes de sean culver
eric-mertens : daguerréotypes
jerry spagnoli : daguerréotypes
marc kereun : daguerréotypes
marc kereun : l'exposition de daguerréotypes contemporains de Bry sur Marne
marc kereun : technique du daguerréotype
marinus j. ortelee : daguerréotypes
patrick bailly-maitre-grand : daguerréotypes
reproduire pour exposer
rob mcelroy : daguerréotypes

dernière modification de cet article : 2009

 

 

 

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