The Berkowski Daguerrotype

eclipse_photo_1851_jena.jpg

The first successful photographic image of the sun's corona was taken 164 years ago today. A daguerrotypist named J. Berkowski was brought to the Royal Observatory in Königsberg, Germany (now Kaliningrad, Russia) by the director, Augustus Busch, to record a solar eclipse on 28 July 1851. According to this 2005 paper in Acta Historica Astronomiae, Berkowski soon made some daguerrotype reproductions. Busch commissioned Robert Trossin of the Royal Academy of Painting to make a steel engraving of the daguerrotype. In 1891, CFW Peters had Berkowski's original daguerrotype photographed for publication. It has since been lost.

Four of Berkowski's copies were known, including one in the Jena Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany [above]. The order of copying events in the Jena description does not quite line up with the 2005 paper, even though the author, Dr. Reinhard Schielecke, is the same.

The moon in the 2nd-generation daguerrotype is tiny: 8.7mm across. The original was under 8mm. The Jena print is thus only around 5x6cm, as wide as the screen on an iPhone 4s, but shorter. It was recently conserved, and the Google translation makes me wonder if images of the daguerrotype have been Photoshopped a bit.

I don't expect to beat diehard collectors of Prussian daguerrotypes to the rediscovery of another of Berkowski's prints. It would probably be easier to start from scratch and make a new daguerrotype of a solar eclipse somewhere.

ABSTRACT: "On the Berkowski daguerreotype (Königsberg, 1851 July 28): the first correctly-exposed photograph of the solar corona" [adsabs.harvard.edu via @coryspowell]
Daguerreotypie der Sonnenfinsternis vom 28. Juli 1851 [museum-digital.de]
Konservierung der Berkowski-Daguerreotypie abgeschlossen [daguerrotype-gallery.de]

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: July 28, 2015.

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