The best daguerreotype portraits are some of the most striking photographic likenesses you'll ever see. Talk about verisimilitude: Those who posed for daguerreotypes in the last century seem about to start speaking, or to step right out of the image. The pictures are practically holographic in their three-dimensionality, and you feel you could almost reach out and touch the faces captured therein so long ago. The generally small size of the images doesn't detract from the experience; in fact, like the finest Mughal miniatures, the reverse is true. As you draw close to the frame, you find yourself entering the daguerreotype's exquisite little world. The experience is enhanced by the thought that, since daguerreotypes are positive images, the photograph before you is the only one in existence.
A daguerreotype's power is greatest when you're seeing the actual image before your eyes, of course, but the reproductions in this beautifully designed coffee-table book, many of which are reproduced in actual size, are so stunning that you're truly getting the next best thing. Here you'll find likenesses of some of the most famous figures to traipse through the 19th century -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jenny Lind, Tom Thumb, James Whistler, Dorothea Dix.
The author, Melissa Banta, a kind of curator-at-large at Harvard, was not content simply to ferret out all daguerreotypes then existing at Harvard (over 450 images, some of which are seeing the light of day for the first time here). She delved into the often compelling stories behind each image's creation, life history, and curation. In lyrically written short essays, we learn how the first daguerreotypes of the moon came into being in 1851, why Louis Agassiz had daguerreotypes taken of slaves forced to disrobe, what Harriet Beecher Stowe was thinking at the time her likeness was taken, why Asa Gray collected daguerreotypes of his fellow botanists (all images that appear here).
In short, this is a coffee-table book with substance and personality. It will serve as an excellent introduction to daguerreotypy for the layman, and a must-have compendium for the avid daguerreian. Highly recommended.