Wed
Jan 9 2013 4:00pm

Decayed Daguerreotypes are Like Photos of People in the Afterlife

Decayed daguerreotypes as chillingly beautiful ghost art

Want to hear something completely spooky? The above daguerreotype of President James Buchanan, taken at some point between 1844 and 1860, began to degrade as soon as the former president passed away in 1868. The ghostly image you see above is how it looks today.

And it’s all thanks to science!

The daguerreotype above was highlighted, along with the rest you’ll see below, by The Public Domain Review, which recently took a look through the public domain daguerreotype collection of Civil War photojournalist Matthew Brady.

Instead of crisp images enshrined in metal, however, they found the following spooky visages. The silvered copper plate used for daguerreotypes was, according to the Review, “extremely sensitive to scratches, dust, hair, etc, and particularly the rubbing of the glass cover if the glue holding it in place deteriorated. As well as rubbing, the glass itself can also deteriorate and bubbles of solvent explode upon the image.”

Additionally, the mercury and sodium chloride used to develop the photos did little to ensure their preservation. What resulted was a picture that aged as its subject did, even beyond death, into something spooky and ephemeral. It’s all too easy to imagine that you’re still seeing these people as they are now, through the veil, into a bleak and unknowable afterlife.

Decayed daguerreotypes as chillingly beautiful ghost art

Decayed daguerreotypes as chillingly beautiful ghost art

Decayed daguerreotypes as chillingly beautiful ghost art

Decayed daguerreotypes as chillingly beautiful ghost art

Decayed daguerreotypes as chillingly beautiful ghost art

Check out more higher quality images at The Public Domain Review.


Stubby the Rocket is the mascot of Tor.com. Stubby thinks a decayed daguerreotype of a rocket would actually look amazing.

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