When the daguerreotype was introduced in 1839, some of the first to support this groundbreaking photographic process were the elite of Europe. Jean-Gabriel Eynard, a Swiss banker, experimented with the method in the early 1840s right up to his death in 1863. While he mainly documented the goings-on of his Geneva estate, his enthusiasm and boundless curiosity for the process left behind a surprisingly candid view of 19th-century life.
Eynard is included in a new virtual exhibition on “the first truly successful photographic process” called Photography On A Silver Plate by Daguerreobase, a platform for daguerreotype resources around European institutions, created in collaboration with Europeana and Google Cultural Institute. The exhibition text notes that enthusiasts like “gentleman photographer” Eynard with their early interest had results that “were often outstanding, showing their ability to capture various hidden and unexpected aspects of everyday life, usually with an exceptional freshness and spontaneity in poses and compositions.”
Assisted by his valet Jean Rion, Eynard seemed to delight in posing his family, servants, and friends for portraits, their gazes off into the distance and awkward positions suggesting the tedium of staying perfectly still for yet another exposure. Eynard often jumped in front of the camera himself, sometimes posing with daguerreotypes he’d previously taken, sometimes standing in his shiny top hat alongside his impressive “Palais Eynard” home or a more humble ox-cart. In one photograph behind the lens, he’s snuck up close to the prone white body of a young foal, the details of its mane and the hay on the ground still sharp over 150 years later. Below are more photographs by Eynard via the J. Paul Getty Museum, showing the views of one amateur aristocrat’s early daguerreotype adoption.
View more photographs by Jean-Gabriel Eynard online at the J. Paul Getty Museum.