No, we’re not talking about film here. No Instamatics or Polaroids, not even a box Brownie. No, we’re talking daguerreotypes, a marvelously complex system for making a photographic positive on a mirror polished metal plate.
The year is 1848. The place is Cincinnati. On September 24th, two guys named Charles Fontayne and William Porter took a truly epic daguerreotype panorama of the waterfront, using 8 plates. It’s the first photograph ever taken of a steamboat, the first photograph ever taken of a railway station, and the resolution is so precise that once it was digitized you could read the time on the clock on the clock tower, although the face is less than a millimeter across on the plate. (It was 5 minutes to two.)
Read a great article about the Fontayne-Porter panorama and how it was digitized and restored, including an excellent description of the art of daguerreotype and digital images of all the plates, at WIRED magazine, here. I chose the image above because of the cool steamboats, but all of them are worth studying. Highly recommended.