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Saturday, December 13, 2014

The "First Ever Hawaiian Photographs" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Sitting high above the Hawaiian islands in the last row of a Boeing B-717 flying from the island of Ohau to the island of Kauai.  Was hoping to get a window seat, but the back row has no window.  Instead I picked through the rear pocket of the seat in front of me and found a copy of Hana Hou!, the airlines inflight magazine.  As I leafed through it I found a very interesting article titled The Daguerrians written by Derek Ferrar.  It was an article about who took the earliest images in the Hawaiian Isalnds. Being that I taught photography in high school and included a section on history in my courses, I tore the section from the magazine and put it in my carry-on for future reading.  Sound like I was stealing it?  Well maybe, but the magazine said to take it if we cared too.  Didn't want the entire thing so I extracted just the part necessary.  
Louis Daguerre, inventor of the Daguerrotype Photograph
Read and re-read it several times, since I always enjoyed reading about French inventor Louis Daguerre and his development of the first user-friendly photography process.  It was in 1939 that he patented a procedure to make images using chemicals and silver plates which became known as the Daugerrotype process.  His invention quickly circled the globe and those that began making portraitures were known as Daguerreians.  The Daguerreians had to polish a copper plate, sensitize the plate to light using chemicals, place the plate in a light-tight frame that would fit into a daguerreotype camera and make the exposure.  
A few of the many Daguerrotypes that I own.
The exposure time was close to 20 seconds during which time the subject had to remain perfectly still.  Then the plate would be removed from the camera in a darkened room for development with heated mercury which would take another half hour.  After making the image permanent with other chemicals it was placed in a decorative case.  
First Hawaiian captured with a Daguerrotype: Timoteo Ha'alilio 
Studios first opened in larger cities throughout Europe as well as in New York.  It wasn't until 1843 that a photograph of an Hawaiian was taken in France.  His name was Timoteo Ha'alilio who was a young chief of King Kamehameha III who was in France seeking recognition of the Hawaiian kingdom.  He died of tuberculosis on the voyage back to Hawaii.  
Hilo's Wailuku River by Goodfellow and Stangenwald.
Part of the Mission Houses Archives, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Then in May of 1845, Theophilus Metcalf advertised in Honolulu that he was using the Daguer- rotype method in his studio for $10 ($300 today's value).  The following year Señor Fernando Le Blue, an alleged French clergyman, arrived from Peru and began taking photos of Honolulu residents 
 for $6.  Le Bleu supposedly took the oldest surviving image taken in Hawaii: a small oval daguerrotype of Princess Bernice Pauahi.  Perhaps the most noted and famous of the Hawaiian Daguerreian photographers was Hugo Stangenwald, a German, who arrived from Austria.  He and partner  Stephen Goodfellow captured one of the most striking landscapes when they photographed Hilo's Wailuku River.  The long exposure caused the running water to look surreal.  In 1853 the pair set up shop in Honolulu, but Goodfellow left shortly after with Stangenwald spending his life in Hawaii.  
King Kamehameha IV
Taken by B Jay Antrim in mid-1850s.  Part
of the Queen Medical Center-Native Hawaiian Program.
One other notable photographer, B. Jay Antrim, an American, is mentioned as competition for Stangenwald, but it seems Stangenwald portrayed his competition as incompetent and in 1856 Antrim returned to his hometown of Philadelphia.  Stangenwald made a visit to San Francisco and when he returned he announced he could now make photos on paper.  The tide was changing and the Daguerreians and their technology was left behind.  Stangenwald finished his medical training and lived out his life on the islands as a physician.  About 250 to 300 of the original Daguerrotypes taken in Hawaii still survive today in various historical archives.  I was not able to find any in the few museums I visited.  I suspect there may be many others housed in scrapbooks or sitting in frames on shelves of many Hawaiians who trace their ancestry back to the time of the Daguerreians.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

1 comment:

  1. I knew you'd find SOMETHING to do way back there in that cramped back seat!!! ☺ Thank goodness it was a short flight.
    JS

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