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  Johann Baptist Isenring

Johann Baptist Isenring was born in St. Gallen, Switzerland in 1796. Little is known about his early education except that he served as a carpenter's apprentice before entering Munich Academy to study painting and copperplate engraving. He began his photographic experimentation first with William Henry Fox Talbot's calotype, but then focused exclusively upon the newly introduced daguerreotype process. By the close of 1839, Mr. Isenring had created several daguerreotypes of his hometown, and the next year began making portraits of friends and family members. The combination of altitude and clear Swiss mountain air enabled him maximize ultraviolet light and take advantage of short exposure times, lasting from 6 to 20 seconds.

In August of 1840, Mr. Isenring published a catalog in his hometown of St. Gallen that consisted of eight pages and 39 portraits, along with architectural, landscape, and still-life daguerreotypes. Unfortunately, his detailed painted daguerreotype portraits with the pupils of his sitters' eyes hand-etched, have been lost. When nearly 50 of Mr. Isenring's daguerreotypes were exhibited in Augburg in November 1840, they caught the attention of Danish author Hans Christian Anderson, who expressed admiration for his artistry. He remarked, "By a Swiss painter, Isenring from St. Gallen, I saw a collection of excellent daguerreotypes taken in 10 to 5 minutes of living people; they were of all sizes and looked like etchings in steel. The hair was beautiful, and the eyes and even the reflections in the pupil were quite clear."

Mr. Isenring relocated to Munich, where opened a portrait studio specializing in color daguerreotype portraits in the summer of 1841. He used a process by which he applied gum acacia and pigment onto the plate's surface. He then added color either with a paintbrush or by dusting it through mask cutouts onto the surface. He then would breathe on the plate so that the mixture would adhere properly. Not known for his modesty, Mr. Isenring described his style as “the fruit of unceasing studies” and compared his daguerreotypes to "accomplished paintings." However, when Richard Beard is awarded British Patent Number 9292 for "Colouring Daguerreotype Pictures" in 1842, Mr. Isenring's technique is only indirectly referenced by the new patent owner as "communicated to me by a certain Foreigner residing abroad."

Also in 1842, Mr. Isenring began a life as an itinerant photographer, traveling through southern Germany in a unique "Sonnenwagen" ("sun car"), which was perhaps the earliest mobile photographic studio complete with a darkroom and living/sleeping areas. His intention was to photograph monuments and architectural achievements, but when there was a lack of enthusiasm or financial patronage for his efforts, it was soon abandoned. Landscape photography did not become popular or lucrative until the mid-to-late 1860s. Johann Baptist Isenring drifted into obscurity, and died in 1860 at the age of 64. He is remembered by contemporary historians as the first person to color and retouch daguerreotypes and to exhibit portrait photography to the public.

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2005 Bertel Thorvaldsen: A Daguerreotype Portrait from 1840 (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press), p. 23.

1986 A Concise History of Photography (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.), p. 39.

2009 Daguerreotypie (URL:

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 752.

2011 History and Contemporary Trends in Photography (URL:

1994 The Photographic Experience, 1839-1914: Images and Attitudes (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press), p. 92.

2006 Picturing Place: Photography and the Geographical Imagination (London: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.), p. 132.

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