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The Boston Globe

Theater & art

Photography Review

At MIT, the presence of pastness

CAMBRIDGE — In his novel “The House of Seven Gables,” Nathaniel Hawthorne made a daguerreotypist the embodiment of the modern age. It was a sensible choice for 1851. Daguerreotypes, the first type of photograph, had been invented a scant dozen years before. They were as modern as modern could be, right down to the shininess of the silver-plated copper on which the image was exposed. Knowledge of that up-to-the-minute past makes the way daguerreotypes now look — as antique as an antimacassar covering a corset draped across a spittoon — all the more affecting as an evocation of time’s passage. Every photographic image is about the past. A daguerreotype doesn’t just state that pastness. A daguerreotype proclaims it.

Daguerreotypes originated in France, named for their inventor, Louis Daguerre. Yet as “Daguerre’s American Legacy: Photographic Portraits (1840-1900) From the Wm. B. Becker Collection” amply demonstrates, the United States very quickly made them its own. The show runs at the MIT Museum through Jan. 4.

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