Daguerreotypes - Excursions Daguerriennes

[Taken with permission from a recent exhibition of the Pattinson Daguerrotype held at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film]

The Excursions Daguerriennes, représentant les vues et les monuments les plus remarquables du globe, [Daguerreian Travels, representing the most remarkable views and monuments in the world] was published in Paris by Noël-Marie Paymal Lerebours between 1841 and 1864. The volumes were sold by subscription and in the end contained more than one hundred views of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East shot between 1839 and 1844. Pattinson's view of the falls was the only view of North America to appear in the publication.

Lerebours sold equipment and taught the process to a number of intrepid daguerreotypists. He then sent his students to exotic locations around the world, where they could make daguerreotypes for him. He also accepted views from independent daguerreotypists and eventually received approximately 1200 plates. Antoine Claudet, the first professional daguerreotypist in England, was of French origins and passed Pattinson's view of Niagara Falls on to Lerebours.

[The only way in which a daguerreotype could be printed was by making an engraving from the plate. The daguerreotype process produced a laterally reversed image, there being no negative. The engraving is traced from the daguerreotype and then turned over to give the "correct" orientation of the subject. Extra details were often added to engravings to add more "interest."

In addition to the Horseshoe Falls view described below, we show here engravings of the two daguerreotypes of Rome which were printed in Excursions Daguerriennes, Port Ripetta and Saint Pierre et Château St. Ange, courtesy of George Eastman House.]

From the Excursions Daguerriennes, représentant les vues et les monuments les plus remarquables du globe. Translation from the French by Sylvie Penichon and Roger Watson:

Niagra Falls (North America)

Horseshoe Falls
This magnificent cataract is, without a doubt, one of the wonders of nature. It is impossible to contemplate its greatness without being filled with astonishment and admiration. The sublime effect produced by this immense curtain of water, which falls with majesty in such a deep abyss, raises the spirit toward the power that created such phenomena for man's contemplation, and makes him feel at the same time so weak and inferior.

The view was taken from the Clifton Hotel, one mile below the cataract, on the Canadian side or left bank of the Niagara River. This point of view is the most favorable because the spectator is precisely in front of the cataract, and, from there, all its vastness can be embraced at once.

On the left side of the plate, and consequently on the right bank of the river, one discovers part of an island called Goat Island, or sometimes Iris Island, which is covered with trees that form the horizon of the left extremity of the plate. Below the trees, and before the right side of the first fall, there is a perpendicular precipice of eighty to one hundred English feet deep, at the bottom of which an inclined mass of rocks, which were at that time covered by snow, advances in the direction of the river .

A sort of turning stairway, formed with tree trunks called Biddle Staircase, leads the visitor from Goat Island to this mass of broken rocks but, as it is to the right from the point where our view starts, we cannot see it.

On the extremity of Goat Island one can see the first fall, formed by an arm one hundred feet wide, produced by the rocks that raise from the riverbed, and which is called Prospect Point. Another strait arm is formed by the rocks called Terrapin, on the right side of Prospect Point.

A tower fifty to sixty feet high is on this island. There was formerly a wooden platform that ran from the end of the Terrapin rocks to the edge of the precipice extending several feet beyond the big fall.

From the top of the tower or from the extremity of the Terrapin rocks, the aspect of the middle of the big fall and of the abyss is grandiose and sublime beyond any expression. The communication between Prospect Point and the Terrapin rocks is established by a wooden bridge.

From the bottom of the Biddle stairway, a path runs on the rocks and leads to the bottom of the falls on this side of the river, from which one can approach safely. It is said that it is possible to plunge behind one of these curtains of water as deep as several meters.

Below the tower, the horizon is formed by a forest that covers the Canadian side down to the bank of the Niagara, and extends on the right of the plate. The houses that one can see in the foreground form part of the City of the falls.

On the left and on the right of the tower, the expanse of the river above the falls constitutes the Rapids, or cascade formed by the waters that fall with force on the slopes of the rocks before reaching the edge of the precipice.

On the right side of the cataract, and near the place where it falls, there is a small building containing a machine that was formerly used to carry water up to the City of the falls; on the right of this construction one can see the house of the guide who takes visitors to the cataracts. Table Rock, is a platform of limestone, that separates the two houses and forms the edge of a precipice, from where, if one leans forward a little, the view plunges to the depth of the abyss, onto the surface of a pool of green water in the center of the horseshoe, and from where the water rushes and falls for some time in a compact mass. This point is without a doubt the best position from which to embrace completely this marvelous spectacle.

Near the guide's house there is a kind of perpendicular stairway, indicated in the plate by a wide white line, that leads to another inclination of broken rocks similar to those of the Biddle stairway on the opposite side. From the bottom of this stairway, a path leads to the edge of the water, below Table Rock, and in this place one can pass behind the water up to a distance of one hundred and fifty feet.

The construction, on the right of the guide's house on the border of the plate, is a museum containing a collection of Indian curiosities and other interesting objects. There is a road for carriages from the Clifton Hotel, which passes in front of the museum and follows the bank of the river as far as the eye can see, leading by a sloping path, along the escarpment, to a pier on the lake for crossing the river from that side to the American side. The width at this place is approximately eight hundred meters, and normally the crossing takes ten minutes. The distance between Table Rock and the Tower is four hundred meters, and the perpendicular height of the cataract is fifty-two meters.

Note from the editor: We are indebted to Mr. H. L. Pattinson of Newcastle-on-Tyne for the daguerreian plate of Niagara and the note that precedes. This distinguished amateur is one of the first to have tried this art in America. Mr. Pattinson's English text has been translated by Mr. Antoine Claudet, our countryman, who was the first to introduce Daguerre's discovery in London, and there practice the art with so much success.

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