Those Cincinnati Beauties from 1848!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

By now, I'm sure you've all been made aware of the amazing riverfront daguerreotypes that have recently been scanned and made available by the University of Rochester! As a native Cincinnatian, I was enraptured by their beauty. As a historian, I was enraptured by their depth and detail. All around, these photos have suddenly earned a more important place historically, as well they should. Taken in 1848 by Charles Fontayne and William Porter, these are one of the earliest photographic images of an urban locale. The well-known panorama taken in a series of 8 dag plates has always been an important part of photographic and American history, but with this project, the information contained within the images has been amplified.

Amazingly, the scans have been accomplished at such a high resolution that in comparison, a digital camera would have to take a similar photograph at 140,000 mega pixels. After a detailed quadrant scan, new details have emerged at this 30X magnification: wording, people, carriages, shadows of motion, time. There have been several articles about these beautiful images within the past few days and I'll list those direct links at the bottom of the post. However, just a couple of points to ponder:

1. The exact date of when these images were produced had been a mystery until some Cincinnati researchers in 1947 examined the steamboat records to find the precise date that every one of these steamboats were docked at the riverfront - September 24th, 1848. They even studied the shadows to give a guess as to the time - which turned out to be stunningly accurate once these new scans were examined to see the time on the clock. That is some serious research dedication, but it goes to show you that while technology is fantastic, nothing can beat good old fashioned research in many instances.

2. If you've ever visited this fair city, be sure to take a look at all the photos as they scan down the length of the river. To see the seven hills in such an early state of development is quite priceless! How about those beautiful homes up on top of the hills? C'est vraiment magnifique!

Here is a sampling of the photos:

To read more from the original sources:
Wired Magazine:1848 Daguerreotypes Bring Middle America's Past to Life

NPR:Once In a Lifetime River Tour Starts Here! Unfortunately, Everybody’s Dead

University of Rochester and George Eastman House present the Cincinnati Waterfront Dataset
The official technical report on how this scanning was accomplished can also be found in pdf at this link.

The Atlantic:The First Photograph of a Human


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