Photography has become so ubiquitous and rapidly reproducible—what with smart phones and

Photography has become so ubiquitous and rapidly reproducible—what with smart phones and Instagram—that part of the magic of the image has been lost. Returning it to its place as a fine craft that results in a unique physical object might seem stubbornly retrograde, but the work of Daniel Carrillo proves that the slow, methodical process of early photography may in fact still be the most beautiful.

Carrillo rightly says that daguerreotypes are like “polished jewels.” They glint and glitter with shadowy images, each a unique object with weight, presence, and fragility. Victorian art critic Lady Eastlake referred to such early photography as “the mirror with a memory,” but, true to some superstitions, these images have more than a memory; they seem to have a soul of their own, and their haunting beauty transfixes in a way that standard portraiture rarely does.

The artist’s fascination with this particular form of photography began at a workshop in Rochester, N.Y., the birthplace of Kodak. There he learned the ins and outs of wet-plate photo-processing, which requires a great deal of preparation, polishing, and chemistry—as well as 10 seconds of stillness from the model. Some of the equipment is now quite rare, so he created his own. These challenges alone might deter would-be enthusiasts of the medium, but the addition of corrosive and poisonous chemicals makes the process particularly “elusive,” as Carrillo puts it. The danger is real, even though damage to one’s body and nervous system can take time to manifest. Carrillo himself was cavalier about these dangers at first, but art legend Kiki Smith put the fear of God in him when, at a portrait sitting, she scolded him for not taking proper precautions for himself. The lesson seems to have stuck, so hopefully he will be at his craft for many years to come.

It’s a unique craft, to say the least—one that a perfectionist like Carrillo will always be honing, though he is already one of the most sought-after artists in his genre. His portraits of local and international art luminaries reside in many permanent collections, including that of noted photography collector Elton John.

One could select from his existing pieces, but as a gift of art, a commissioned portrait could be a lasting memento and heirloom that stands the tests of time and trends. Ambrotypes range greatly in size, though larger sizes can only be shot in studio, while smaller plates can be shot elsewhere. The preparation of daguerreotype plates takes two weeks, so if you want to give one as a gift, it’s best to act sooner than later. The medium is unwieldy and unpredictable in less-capable hands, but Carrillo’s expertise consistently renders ethereal images with a power and presence unlike any other. Whether you are giving your own image or gifting a session to someone else, the result will be enjoyed by all timelessly. E


daniel-carrillo.comfor fee schedule and contact info 
for commissions.