The daguerreotype captures the mountain peaks (‘aiguilles’ – ‘needles’) around Mont Blanc, specifically the distinctive summits of the Aiguille du Dru, on the west ridge of the Aiguille Verte. Created under Ruskin’s instruction, the principle purpose of the photograph is to document structural form, for example, the relation between the Grande Aiguille du Dru and Petite Aiguille du Dru.
By 1854, Ruskin had already been creating daguerreotype images in the Alpine region for at least five years: the diary of his valet John Hobbs describes the process of creating the photographs in the summer of 1849 at Chamonix. In that year, Hobbs took what Ruskin would later describe as ‘the first image of the aiguilles of Chamouni ever drawn by the sun’: the first photograph (LE 35 (1908)/453). Artists and scientists at this time were dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge through the immediacy and authenticity of direct experience.
One of the first photographic processes, the daguerreotype was named for the French artist and inventor Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, who presented the technology to the French Académie des Sciences in 1839. The remarkably sharp image is created by exposing a light-sensitive silvered copper plate in a box camera, which is developed with mercury vapour and ‘fixed’ with a salt solution. Daguerreotypes are auto-positive and therefore unique. The mirror-like surface is fragile and unstable, so images were often sealed in a protective case.
Chamonix. Aiguille Verte and Aiguille du Dru is one of 125 daguerreotypes in The Ruskin Whitehouse Collection, created by Ruskin and under his direction, which together form one of the most important surviving groups of early photographs in the world.
Reference no.: 1996D0074