The Story Behind John Draper’s “Eye-Opening” Image
This story was originally published in December 2011.
Invented by French artist Louis Daguerre, the daguerreotype is one of the earliest forms of photography, which involved creating images from a direct positive made in a camera on a silvered copper plate. Early daguerreotypes required very long exposures of over several minutes to record an image, making portraiture impossible. Since this was a laborious process, most photographers stuck to reproducing still life. The photograph above, however, is the world’s first daguerreotype to feature a woman with her eyes open!
John Draper, an American scientist and photographer, had been experimenting with Daguerre’s process around the 1830s. Eventually, he created his own camera to make portraits with shorter exposures and successfully managed to make clear photographs of people. His very first subject was his sister, Dorothy Draper, in 1839. Dorothy’s face was powdered with flour to create contrast. The total exposure lasted for approximately 65 seconds. She had to keep her eyes continuously open for the duration of the exposure. It resulted in a historic portrait that must have surely been a source of wonder and amazement to the people of that time.
Draper sent this image to Sir John Frederick Herschel, a famous English astronomer and photographer, who publicised the image and made it popular. Subsequently, several copies of the image were made in the 19th century.