Spring 2017

Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Art History


My senior thesis, “The Allure of the Anonymous Daguerreotype,” explores contemporary photography collectors in America and how they relate to anonymous portrait daguerreotypes, for which little-to-no information is known. After a brief history of the daguerreotype and its place in the contemporary market, the main portion of my paper will concentrate on how collectors perceive their daguerreotypes. I will investigate topics such as what drives collectors to collect, what captivates them about certain daguerreotypes, and how these photographs help shape their sense of the past. In addition, I will explore how the unique physical and material nature of the daguerreotype contributes to the overall allure of the medium. With these concepts in mind, my main argument will focus on how these qualities and the anonymous nature of the portrait enable the collector to project their own personality and life experience onto the sitter. Interdisciplinary in nature, this project draws from art historical, anthropological, philosophical, sociological, and psychological studies. In order to better understand these concepts, I conducted interviews with eight American daguerreotype collectors and sellers to understand how they value their daguerreotypes. Through my findings, I conclude that the daguerreotype has several unique qualities—including its clarity, fetishistic nature, reflectiveness, and indexicality—which contribute to its overall appeal. Because of these special characteristics and the lack of information in the case of anonymous portraits, daguerreotype collectors feel the freedom to project their own personality and life experience onto the sitter.


Note: Access to this thesis is restricted to Skidmore community.