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Daguerreotype Q&A

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Since my recent visit to the End of the Oregon Trail, I've been wondering about daguerreotypes. After a bit of research, I bring you this Daguerreotype Q&A:

Why doesn't anyone smile in these pictures? The common answer for this is a partially fact-based myth: because it took a long time to expose the image, the subject had to sit still. And, the story goes, frowning is easier to hold in place than smiling. The truth is that very early daguerreotypes (those from 1839-1845) did take 60-90 seconds of sitting still to capture an image, but the majority of daguerreotypes we see today are from post-1845, when new technology (the addition of bromine fumes to the process) reduced exposure times to a few seconds. A more plausible story is that people weren't used to having their pictures taken -- the expense and seriousness of the occasion (getting quite possibly the only photograph you'd ever have of yourself) led people to adopt a serious pose.

When were daguerreotypes popular? Although they're well known today (possibly due to Brady's Civil War images), daguerreotypes were merely one of several competing formats in nineteenth-century photography. They were introduced by Louis Daguerre in 1839 and remained popular into the 1860's. Because daguerreotypes developed a positive image directly onto the photographic plate, there was no way to reproduce them without sitting for multiple shots (there was no negative). This, combined with the expense, fragility, and technical difficulty of the process led to competitors including:

  • Calotype - which used paper negatives
  • Ambrotype - which produced a ghostly positive glass image that was then backed with black paper to produce a complete photograph
  • Tintype - which was durable (being printed on a plate of metal) and thus popular during the Civil War for soldiers in the field

Does anyone still make daguerreotypes today? Yes, though it's a complex and potentially toxic process. The Contemporary Daguerreotypes site (warning: a few tasteful nudes are included) features the work of modern daguerreotypists. See also: The Daguerreian Society, which has an excellent Daguerreotype FAQ with tips on preservation and much more.

Are there daguerreotype images online? I'm so glad you asked, rhetorical question-voice. Check out America's First Look into the Camera from the Library of Congress (including lots of Mathew Brady material). Also try The Daguerreian Society's searchable daguerreotype database or Daguerreotypes at Harvard. Finally, searching Google Images for "daguerreotype" turns up a variety of fun stuff.

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IKEA
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Design
IKEA’s New Augmented Reality App Lets You Test Out Virtual Furniture in Your Home
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IKEA

No matter how much measuring and research you do beforehand, buying a piece of furniture without knowing what it will look like in your home is always a gamble. With its new augmented reality app, IKEA hopes to take some of the guesswork out of the process. IKEA Place features more than 2000 items in the Swedish retailer's inventory, and visualizing them in the space where you live is as easy as tapping a button.

As WIRED reports, IKEA Place is among the first apps to take advantage of Apple's ARKit, an augmented reality platform that debuted as part of iOS 11. iPhone and iPad owners with the latest update can download IKEA's new app for free and start browsing through home goods right away.

To use the tool, you must first select the product you wish to test out, whether it's a loveseat, a kitchen table, or a dresser. Then, with the camera activated, you can point your device at whichever space you want the item to fill and watch it appear on the screen in front of you.

According to IKEA, the 3D models are scaled with 98 percent accuracy. Factors that are hard to analyze from photos online, like shadows, lighting, and textures, are also depicted as they would appear in real life. So if a sofa that looks great under the lights of a store looks drab in your living room, or if a desk that seems tiny online doesn't fit inside your office, the app will let you know. It's the closest you can get to seeing how a piece of furniture complements a room without lugging it through the doorway.

IKEA isn't the first company to improve interior design with computerized images. Several hardware stores and furniture outlets offer their own AR apps. Other services like Modsy let customers pay to create full virtual models of their homes before populating them with 3D furniture. Even IKEA had a basic AR app prior to this one, but it was glitchy and not always accurate. This newest iteration aims to provide a more seamless shopping experience. And with the latest iOS update placing a greater emphasis on AR, you can expect to see more apps using the technology in the near future.

[h/t WIRED]

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Alex Wong/Getty Images
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Art
The Library of Congress Wants Your Help Identifying World War I-Era Political Cartoons
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Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. government’s official library wants your help. And it involves cartoons.

The Library of Congress just debuted its new digital innovation lab, an initiative that aims to improve upon its massive archives and use them in creative ways. Its first project is Beyond Words, a digitization effort designed to make the research library’s historical newspaper collection more search-friendly. It aims to classify and tag historical images from World War I-era newspapers, identifying political cartoons, comics, illustrations, and photos within old news archives. The images come from newspapers included in Chronicling America, the library’s existing newspaper digitization project.

The tasks involved in Beyond Words are simple, even if you know nothing about the illustrations involved going into it. The Library of Congress just needs people to help mark all the illustrations and cartoons in the scanned newspaper pages, a task that only involves drawing boxes to differentiate the image from the articles around it.

Then there’s transcription, involving typing in the title of the image, the caption, the author, and whether it’s an editorial cartoon, an illustration, a photo, a map, or a comic. The library also needs people to verify the work of others, since it’s a crowd-sourced effort—you just need to make sure the images have been transcribed consistently and accurately.

A pop-up window below an early 20th century newspaper illustration prompts the user to pick the most accurate caption.

Screenshot via labs.loc.gov

The data will eventually be available for download by researchers, and you can explore the already-transcribed images on the Beyond Words site. Everything is in the public domain, so you can remix and use it however you want.

With the new labs.loc.gov, “we are inviting explorers to help crack open digital discoveries and share the collections in new and innovative ways,” Carla Hayden, the library’s head, said in a press release.

Other government archives regularly look to ordinary people to help with the monstrous task of digitizing and categorizing their collections. The National Archives and Records Administration, for instance, has recently crowd-sourced data entry and transcription for vintage photos of life on Native American reservations and declassified government documents to help make their collections more accessible online.

Want to contribute to the Library of Congress’s latest effort? Visit labs.loc.gov.

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