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The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre

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  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A MASTERFUL NOVEL SUPERBLY READ

    While French artist and scientist Louis Daguerre is recognized for his invention of the daguerreotype photographic process, his life was the stuff of great drama. He was, indeed, a founding father of photography yet his battle for that honor was hard won, as he had to fight to protect his patent. However, that struggle was a small price compared to the physical effects of the pursuit of his passion. Daguerre exposed himself to mercury vapors, a necessity to engrave the images on a plate. The danger was that he could not avoid some exposure to mercury poisoning, which was eventually his downfall. The great man became delusional, convinced that the end of the world was near - as soon as a year. We hear: ''When the vision came, he was in the bathtub. After a decade of using mercury vapors to cure his photographic images, Louis Daguerre's mind had faltered¿a pewter plate left too long on this cold evening of 1846, he felt a strange calm. Outside, a light snow was falling and a vaporous blue dusk seemed to be rising out of the Seine. ' Then, he made a list of what needed to be photographed before it was too late. His choices were a beautiful nude woman, the sun, the moon, the perfect Paris boulevard, a pastoral scene, galloping horses, a perfect apple, a flower, the king of France, and Isobel Le Fournier. (A woman Daguerre loved) Smith is masterful as he traces Daguerre's descent into madness. This is a bravura debut novel, outstanding not only for the history of photography but for its psychological aspects and picture of mid nineteenth century Paris. Although born in New England actor Stephen Hoye spent much of his professional life in London. Many will remember him for his Audie winning narration of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. He really comes to the fore with this story, imbuing it with a stage trained actor's resonant voice and skillfully persuasive phrasing. Highly recommended. - Gail Cooke

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