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Jacques-Antoine Moulin: Two Standing Nudes (ca. 1850) at the Met
photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Jacques-Antoine Moulin: Two Standing Nudes (ca. 1850) at the Met

Although the show of French daguerreotypes that just opened at the Metropolitan Museum (and continues through January 4) contains some of the first photographs ever made, there's nothing musty about these antiques. Made between 1839 and 1855 by the format's inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, and a host of subsequent artists and amateurs, they're small and seductive, and their mirror-like surfaces are as inviting as peepholes. Much of what we see in them is long vanished, but, carefully spotlit in these velvet-lined rooms, it couldn't be more startlingly present. Here is the world in all its variety, from Parisian panoramas to a solitary palm, with Balzac, a prosthetic leg, a pair of human skulls, a bull, Victor Hugo in exile, a chunk of crystal, and a gaggle of nudes (academic, erotic, and matter-of-fact) in between. Once the process was popularized, daguerreotypists recorded people, places, and things as if they were going to disappear at any moment. Their pioneering urgency is well rewarded here.

 
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