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Unidentified Photographer (U.S.): “Uncle Geo. & Gus”

Daguerreotype, sixth-plate size ( 2.75 x 3.25 inches), circa 1853


“A portrait of such tremendous sensitivity that it reaches out to us with both the power of art and that unique power of photography which constantly reminds us that what we see actually happened.”

–John Wood, The Daguerreotype: A Sesquicentennial Celebration (University of Iowa Press, 1989)


“Even some of the more conventional pictures in the show [“Secrets of the Dark Chamber” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art] exert a universal power, whether we know something about the sitters or supply their histories from our own imagination. The identities of both sitters and the photographer of “Uncle George and Gus” are long lost, yet Uncle George appears a quite handsome young man with a shiny new black leather peaked cap, holding the beautiful, precocious-looking toddler Gus in his arm. Cheek to cheek, both stare intently into the camera, as if to tell of adventures past and future. Of course, they could never have guessed where their picture would end up 150 years later. But the photographer–I don’t think it would have surprised him at all.”

–Taylor Holliday, “The Daguerreotype’s Legacy: Portraits for the Masses” in The Wall Street Journal, September 14, 1995


In addition to being published in the book and article referenced above, “Uncle Geo. & Gus” was the cover image for Photography’s Beginnings: A Visual History (University of New Mexico Press, 1990). It is also published in Secrets of the Dark Chamber (Smithsonian Institution Press/National Museum of American Art, 1995). The image has been exhibited at the Krannert Art Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Southeast Museum of Photography, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Meadow Brook Art Gallery and the National Museum of American Art.


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