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Earliest form of photography comes to the Taft Museum of Art
Attributed to Ezekiel Hawkins (American, 1808–1862), The Jacob Strader at Wharf, Cincinnati, about 1853, daguerreotype, half plate, image size: 4 ½ x 5 ½ inches. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc., 2005.27.38. © Nelson Gallery Foundation.

CINCINNATI, OH.- Photographic Wonders: American Daguerreotypes from The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, on display May 17–Aug. 25, features 82 astonishing images of life in 19th-century America. The exhibition includes rare images of such well-known Americans as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and Tom Thumb.

Local Exposures: Cincinnati Daguerreotypes, on display April 19–July 21, features ten daguerreotypes with local connections, including telling portraits of distinguished sitters such as actor Edwin Forrest and ornithologist, naturalist, and painter James Audubon.

In 1839 the American public encountered the exciting new invention of photography in its earliest form, the daguerreotype. Together, these two Taft exhibitions present an in-depth look at the art of early photography, as well as candid, touching, and sometimes humorous image of life in mid-19th century America and Cincinnati.

A daguerreotype is a unique image crafted on a silvered copper plate, a surface that acts like a mirror. While sometimes hard to view, this exhibition presents the works under perfect lighting conditions. The earliest daguerreotypes required exposures of up to thirty minutes. Within a few years, however, portraits could be made in about ten to twenty seconds.

Among the exceptional daguerreotypes in Photographic Wonders are post-mortem images (portraits taken after death) that tell sorrowful stories, while The Comic Dentist and other humorous subjects still amuse today's audiences. Portraits of individuals with the hallmarks of their trade (called occupationals), including a blacksmith with his tools, a woman ironing, and a clown in costume, show Americans' pride in their work. Outdoor scenes reveal quaint towns and growing cities, while landscapes feature popular tourist destinations. The wide range of subjects offers something for every interest.

The exhibited works in Photographic Wonders are part of an acclaimed collection that Hallmark Cards, Inc., donated in 2005 to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The choice examples selected for the Taft date from about 1840 to about 1860, while Nicholas Longworth and his family lived in the historic house that is now the Taft Museum of Art.

Local Exposures, a captivating “snapshot” of life in Cincinnati in the 1800s, will delight Cincinnati history enthusiasts. A rarely exhibited Cincinnati streetscape reveals what the city looked like in 1848, while business cards and advertisements for daguerreotype studios show the prominence of the industry in Cincinnati.

“These were the first photographs. Prior to this the only way you could preserve your image was through a painting or sketch. Imagine seeing yourself in a photograph for the first time--it would seem like magic, and that's exactly the first reaction people had," says installing curator, Tamera Muente.

Taft Museum of Art Director/CEO, Deborah Emont Scott, says, “It’s an amazing experience to view these precious, one-of-a-kind photographs. The images are small and the viewing experience is an intimate one – you step back in time and share a rare mid-19th-century moment with the sitter.”

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