First Photo Studio

Wolcott_CameraToday in 1840, Alexander S. Wolcott and John Johnson opened the first commercial photography studio in New York.  Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine described Wolcott as having “nearly revolutionized the whole process of Daguerre… [who] as is well known, could not succeed in taking likenesses from the life, and, in fact, but few objects were perfectly represented by him, unless positively white, and in broad sunlight. By means of a concave mirror, in place of ordinary lens, Mr. W. has succeeded in taking miniatures from the living subject, with absolute exactness, and in a very short space of time.”

In the years that followed, popular interest swelled and commercial studios proliferated. One commentary in the press, in 1843, described “beggars and the takers of likeness by daguerreotype” as the only two groups of people who made money in New York “in these Jeremiad times”: “It will soon be… difficult to find a man who has not his likeness done by the sun…”

By the early 1850s a visitor commented that “there is hardly a block in New York that has not one or more of these concerns [daguerreotype studios] upon it, and some of them a dozen or  more, and all seem to be doing a good and fair amount of business.”

Source: Jeff Rosenheim, “‘A Palace for the Sun’: Early Photography in New York City,” in Art and the Empire City, 2000

 

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