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James E. McClees & Washington L. Germon (act. 1847–1856)
Portrait of a 2-year-old girl

USA, Philadelphia, c. 1850
Daguerreotype, 1/16 plate, in oval metal mat with engraving „McClees & German, Phila”

Most Daguerreotype photographers earned their living with portraits. Studies are assuming that this genre made up around 90% of their total output. In accordance with this then common practice, a major part of Daguerreotypes housed in the WestLicht collection are portraits.

Portraits of children were especially challenging for daguerreotypists. It was difficult to keep the curious and lively little fellows still for the long time of exposure needed. In spite of this difficulty there are many portraits of children, often they are already recognizable as tiny personalities in the shots.

The image above is an especially sensitive and artistically well executed children’s portrait. Shot on a sixteenth plate it depicts a small girl vertically aligned wearing a dotted off-the-shoulders dress. The skilled lighting placed on the girl’s face and shoulders, as well as an unusual close up angle makes this portrait seem almost Pictorialist. This effect is enhanced by the subtle colourisation of cheeks and shoulders.

As the names of the photographers are engraved on the metal mount, the provenance of this image is clear which is rarely the case with daguerreotypes. James E. McClees and Washington Lafayette Germon worked together between 1848 and 1855 and owned a successful portrait studio on Chestnut Street 182 in Philadelphia.

Anna Zimm, © WestLicht