Get smart curated videos delivered to your inbox.   SUBSCRIBE
The Kid Should See This

Conservation of an 1842 daguerreotype, one of the oldest photographs at MoMA

Watch more with these video collections:

Tarnish is slowly engulfing one of the oldest objects in MoMA‘s collection, a daguerreotype from 1842 capturing two separate images—the Arch of Septimius Severus and Capitoline Lion in the Roman Forum. Within two years of the invention of photography, Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, a French aristocrat, assembled a team to travel the Mediterranean and make over a thousand images of the region’s cities, people, and ruins. These early daguerreotypes projected images directly onto silver plates, like a mirror imprinting a reflection onto its polished surface. Akin to Polaroids, they were unique photographic objects that offered no convenient method of replication.

Daguerreotypes by Girault de Prangey are “the earliest surviving photographs of Greece, Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Turkey.” Their conservation can be tricky due to the “complicated” chemistry on the surface of each image, as seen with this image from Rome.

tarnish on a daguerreotype
Go behind the scenes at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as Lee Ann Daffner, MoMA’s Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Conservator, demonstrates how she’s conserving the 1842 daguerreotype, one of the oldest photographs in MoMA’s collection. She explains:

“There’s a real art and science to the cleaning. Not only do you have to know the systems and materials and types of deterioration, but you need to know when to stop.”

Lee Ann Daffner
the Arch of Septimius Severus and Capitoline Lion in the Roman Forum
This is one in a series of Conservation Stories at MoMA. Previously on TKSST: Microscopically reweaving a 1907 painting and the meticulous work that goes into running the Museum of Modern Art.

Also from SFMoMA: Henry Fox Talbot, the First Photographs, and the Pioneers of Photography.

And finally, how art conservator Julian Baumgartner restores damaged paintings.

This Webby award-winning video collection exists to help teachers, librarians, and families spark kid wonder and curiosity. TKSST features smarter, more meaningful content than what's usually served up by YouTube's algorithms, and amplifies the creators who make that content.

Curated, kid-friendly, independently-published. Support this mission by becoming a sustaining member today.

🌈 Watch these videos next...

The Art and Science of Conservation at the Freer Gallery of Art

Rion Nakaya

How Do You Dismantle a Dino? (Very Carefully)

Rion Nakaya

Sea-thru removes the water from underwater images

Rion Nakaya

Photography, from camera obscura to camera phone

Rion Nakaya

Ceramic artist Michelle Erickson recreates an 18th-century agateware teapot

Rion Nakaya

Incredibly detailed insect portraits by Levon Biss

Rion Nakaya

Henry Fox Talbot, the First Photographs, and the Pioneers of Photography

Rion Nakaya

Marcel Duchamp’s “To Be Looked at (from the Other Side of the Glass) with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour” (1918)

Rion Nakaya

Stilt fishing in Sri Lanka

Rion Nakaya