In the history of American photography, Charles and Henry Meade don’t amount to much more than footnotes. Early practitioners of the first popular photographic technique, the daguerreotype, the Meades opened a studio in 1842 in Albany, N.Y., then moved to New York City, where the family continued to run a studio until the end of the Civil War. The Meades’ daguerreotyping skills reached their apogee with their full-size portraits, notably an 1851 photograph of a regal-looking Sam Houston standing next to a classical column. In the Smithsonian’s ongoing exhibit of the Meades’ work, the prize images are a pair of daguerreotypes featuring Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, the man who invented the technique used to photograph him. In one portrait, the Meades caught Daguerre in a jovial moment, and the backstory only adds to the images’ appeal: Ironically enough, the father of photography didn’t enjoy sitting for photographs, but the Meades won over a niece of Daguerre’s, who persuaded him to cooperate. The eight Daguerre portraits the Meades made during the sitting are the main reason their work is still remembered today. And for good reason.
The exhibit is on view daily 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. to June 1, 2014, at the National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F streets NW. Free. (202) 633-8300. npg.si.edu.