The First Photographer From Brazil

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Only in 1839, The ‘Diário do Commercio’ (Diary of Commerce newspaper), from Rio de Janeiro, reported the invention of the Daguerreotype, that is, six years after the fact. The first photograph made in Brazil, took place in the following year, on January 16 of 1840. The photographer was the Abbot Louis Compte, chaplain of a French school-ship that landed in the port of Rio de Janeiro. He brought the new equipment, introducing the Daguerreotype to the country, executing 3 demonstrations of its functioning to D. Pedro II, the Emperor. It was the first demonstration in Brazil and the South America.

Below, the photograph made by Abbot Louis Compte in Rio de Janeiro, in 1840. It is the first daguerreotype made in South America.

Louis Compte - Primeiro Daguerriotipo Rio de Janeiro - 1840

“It must have seen the thing with your own eyes to have an idea of the speed and result of the process. In less than 9 minutes, the water fountain of the Palace Square, the Fish Square and all near objects were reproduced with such fidelity, precision and detail, that was clear that the thing were made by the hand of nature, and almost without the interference of the artist” (Diary of Commerce from January 17, 1840)

Very little is known today from the amateurs that practiced the Daguerreotype in those first years and the subsequent processes here in Brazil. The Emperor was one of the first, if not the first Brazilian to own and to use the equipment. In 1840, at 14 years old, D. Pedro II, excited about the new invention presented by Compte, ordered one Daguerreotype to Felicio Luzaghy from Paris, for 250 thousand Réis (Brazilian currency at the time), becoming this way, the first photographer from Brazil. He made mostly images of landscape and portraits. Later, already a great collector and a real sponsor of this art, bestowed titles and honours to the most important photographers in the country. He promoted the Brazilian photography and the new technique for the whole country and abroad.

D Pedro II - Auto Retrato - 1860

Self Portrait of D. Pedro II from 1860

The biggest and diversified private collection of photography from the 19th century, is the one reunited by D. Pedro II.

Autor Desconhecido - Rio de Janeiro - 1840

When he left Brazil in 1889 after the Republic proclamation, d. Pedro II donated to the National Library of Rio de Janeiro, his personal collection with almost 25 thousand images. Only 100 years later, in 1990, that the Iconographic division of the National Library began a work to restore and identify the images. Besides being the first Brazilian to take a picture in first half of the 19th century, D. Pedro II implemented in Brazil the title of “Imperial House Photographer”, bestowed from 1851 to the best photographers of the country, that preceded in 2 years the same title that Queen Victoria implemented in England. There was always an specialist in local themes and a photographer to register his travels.

D Pedro II - Imagens

Such images had never been exposed before in a public show, and have been away from light exposition since the end of monarch. Named as “wrapped”, they were storage in metallic boxes for more than one hundred years, in the files of the National Library. The images are photographic copies in albumin paper. In the middle of the 19th century, it was developed a technique that consisted of apply a sheet of low grammage into a bow filled with albumin, a protein extracted from the egg-white, making the sheet to become smooth and brilliant. The contact of the albumin paper with the silver nitrate used to develop photographs made the images richer in contrast. With time, the reaction between the albumin emulsion and the photographic paper let the images wrapped, hence the name “wrapped”. However, as the boxes were kept closed, protected from light and humidity, the quality of the images were kept whole.


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