Alphonse Eugène Hubert

Hubert-1839Daguerreotype by Alphonse Eugène Hubert, c1839

Alphonse Eugène Hubert was a young architect in 19th century Paris and he had some bad news for Louis Daguerre.

After the great inventor leaked some hints of his discovery of the photographic process to a journal in 1835, a letter was printed that must have given him a shock:

I so much doubt M. Daguerre’s anticipated results that I find myself almost tempted to announce that I too have discovered a process for obtaining the most perfect of portraits, by means of a chemical composition which fixes them in the mirror at the moment one looks at oneself!

Hubert was unknown to Daguerre but he turned out to have enough knowledge of the new science to force Daguerre to employ him as an assistant. They worked together for some years until Hubert’s early death in 1840, the year after the invention of photography was announced.

What Hubert already knew and what subsequent contribution he made to our medium is unknown, any records Daguerre may have kept were lost in his 1839 studio fire. He was clearly useful to its birth, but we’ll never know the details.

What we do know is that the invention of photography was not a clear-cut Eureka moment by one person. The race to invent photography and then lay claim to the invention had some other, slower, runners than Louis Daguerre, the shrewd entrepreneur. Here is a list of the known ones:

1802 Thomas Wedgewood, son of the famous potter, made camera photographs on silver but could not fix them permanently.

1826 Joseph Nicéphore Niépce made a crude camera photograph on bitumen then went into partnership with Daguerre.

1834 Hercule Florence, a French painter and inventor living in Brazil made some apparently successful camera pictures on silver nitrate but did not publish enough details.

1835 Fox Talbot, an introverted member of the English rural gentry, made a fairly successful camera photograph in 1835 but then lost interest in the process until Daguerre’s shock announcement in 1839.

1839 Hyppolyte Bayard, a public servant in Paris, announced his Direct Positive process, claiming priority over Daguerre. Not having social connections, he was largely ignored.

January 7 1839 the date that really counts, the first official, verifiable and public announcement of the invention of photography, when members of the French Académie des Sciences were shown Daguerreotypes for the first time. And yes, they liked it, they were impressed.

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