Issue #168  1/6/2010
Fall Itinerary Is a Full One With Dag Society Meeting, Paris Photo, Auctions Galore, and Art Basel Miami Week First Stop: Daguerreian Society Symposium and Trade Show in Philly

"I'm a travelin' man. I've made a lot of stops, all over the world"

--Ricky Nelson

By Alex Novak

It's really feeling like I have been doing much more traveling than staying at home these last three or four months. First the New York City October auctions, including the later one at Swann. Then the Daguerreian Society Annual Symposium and Trade Show, which was closer to home but not quite close enough. Then on to Paris for the auctions, a small vintage photo show and Paris Photo itself. Back home briefly, but then on to Miami and Art Basel Miami week (with a stop-over in Atlanta). A dash over to NYC for Swann's December photo literature and photography auction. Another quick trip into New York to preview Bonham's travel auction. And next week on to Photo L.A.

Yes, it can get a bit tiring after a while, but, as they say, it comes with the job. There are certainly the perks of seeing good friends, eating well (at least sometimes) and doing a little business (at least sometimes).

While we covered the October auctions in previous newsletters, I didn't get to follow-up on the rest of my crazed itinerary. First up: the Daguerreian Society's Symposium and Dealer Show.

This was the Dag Society's 21st annual meeting, and, I believe, the first ever in Philadelphia, the city that had more to do with daguerreotypes than any other in the country (with perhaps a nod to Boston). Since Philly is really my home base now, I felt I had to make more than just an appearance here. The society's president and a good friend, Len Walle, had approached me during Art Chicago about I Photo Central and Vintage Works, Ltd. sponsoring the gala reception to support the event. Len was very persuasive and the arm behind my back was only modestly in pain when I agreed.

The Gala Reception (my thanks to Sally Anyan and Diane Filippi, who really did all the work to pull this nice event together) wound up being held in the historically significant Library Company of Philadelphia, where Sarah Weatherwax is curator of prints and photographs. To enhance the perfect historical setting for the reception, Sarah had put together a special exhibition entitled, "Catching a Shadow: Daguerreotypes in Philadelphia, 1839-1860". You can still see this important show until February 26th. The Library Company, the oldest, continuous library in the country, is located at 1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA; 1-215-546-3181. It is free and open to the public from M-F 9:00 am to 4:45 pm, although new members are also always welcome to join. The institution has a wonderful research library that is also available.

After a little more "persuasion" from Len Walle, I found myself also in charge of the lead-off panel session on conservation and daguerreotypes. Fortunately I was able to enlist the help and expertise of Eastman House's Grant Romer, the Library of Congress' Adrienne Lundgren and Jiuan-Jiuan Chen from Paul Messier, L.L.C. My many thanks to this fine group of conservators for their kind help. I know that both I and the audience learned an awful lot that morning on the latest state of the art techniques on conservation. Look to the Daguerreian Society's newsletter for future articles on this topic. The session covered evaluation, preservation, and current and future conservation techniques for the daguerreotype, including issues relating to identification, coloring, what treatment to use under what circumstances, proper sealing and glass materials, etc.

You definitely came away with a further appreciation for professional conservation. I always advise clients to get professional help on any photographic work that needs conservation. There has been too many excellent photographs and daguerreotypes (and their related research) destroyed by amateur attempts at cleaning and conservation.

I am always impressed with the Daguerreian Society's program, which is simply the best in photography, and I truly wish one of the photography shows would put on something equally educational. Frankly, I am a bit tired of the self-serving photographer speeches, and the erudite and either too narrow or too broad focus of some of the other programs, where I rarely learn anything practical or important. There have been some modest attempts to produce collector programs, but more thought as to the speakers, their topics and presentations needs to be made if collectors, curators and, even dealers are to progress and learn.

AIPAD and the New York Met had a wonderful program a few years ago that served as a brief introduction to conservation and identification and dating of photographs, but it was unfortunately limited almost solely to AIPAD dealers (or rather their staff, because those who most needed this information failed to sign up for the program themselves). Certainly most committed collectors, curators and trade should be interested in topics that directly effect their collections and the value of their photographs. Just a thought.

In any case, the Daguerreian Society was loaded up with gems, including Cliff Krainik speaking on John Plumbe in Philadelphia, and Jeff Richman presenting some interesting information about Green-Wood Cemetery's great daguerreians, many of whom are buried here in this famous Brooklyn cemetery.

Jean-Pierre Spilbauer, mayor of Bry-sur-Marne, France discussed some of the discoveries made in the restoration of Daguerre's Diorama. Sarah J. Weatherwax talked about the Library Company of Philadelphia's current exhibition noted above, "Catching a Shadow: Daguerreotypes in Philadelphia, 1839-1860". Elena Simonova-Bulat, photograph conservator at Harvard University Library, gave a presentation on "Preservation of Daguerreotypes at Harvard".

But among those presenters here, the one that could be said to be giving this symposium his all was Matthew R. Isenburg, collector extraordinaire and chairman of the Society, who talked about "The Many Faces of Daguerre", as shown in trade cards, statuary, stamps, coin medals, steel and wood engravings, lithographs, collectors cards, cigar rings, post cards, Crystalotypes, cdvs, Woodburytypes, cabinet cards and, of course, daguerreotypes of Daguerre. Matt had collapsed just after the Gala Reception the night before and had been rushed to University of Pennsylvania Hospital for observation. He literally checked himself out of his hospital bed to come back and make this highly animated and very funny talk. Most of us who knew the situation were more concerned about Matt's health, despite Matt's wonderful discussion. He wound up back in the hospital the following evening. Fortunately he is recovering at home now. Our very best to this trooper, who--more than anyone else--has built and kept the Daguerreian Society together and stronger. We wish you a complete and speedy recovery, Matt, and thank you for your dedication (although we sure don't want you to take such chances again!).

I was also impressed with the caliber of the attendees at this year's event. Some of the curators included: Ann Shumard from the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery; Weston Naef from the Getty; Keith Davis, Hallmark Collection and Nelson-Atkins; Peter Barberie, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Brian Wallis, ICP; Douglass Paschall, former curator for Woodmere Art Museum; Sarah Weatherwax, Philadelphia Library Company; Grant Romer and several others from the George Eastman House; Carol Johnson, Library of Congress; among others, plus many associate curators and conservators.

The Symposium had people from as far away in the U.S. as Seattle, and internationally, Canada, France and Australia. And those are just the ones that I know about.

All in all, it was a great conference/symposium and an excellent trade fair (on the Saturday), with a number of "big" items being sold at the fair. Many major collectors joined the curators, especially at the Trade Fair, including two of the biggest collectors in Canada, who were represented here. I and many other dealers did extremely well for this one-day table-top show. Next year the symposium is planned for Atlanta, GA, and 2011's symposium may just be Paris or Bry-sur-Marne, a close-by suburb.

For more information on the Daguerreian Society and how to join its international membership, just go to: http://daguerre.org .