Dominic Smith

The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre [Atria Books]

Books Reviews Dominic Smith
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Dominic Smith

Smith develops an imaginative first novel about Europe and the birth of photography

Dominic Smith’s first novel is like the initial photography efforts it portrays: an intriguing if imperfect image of Louis Daguerre, the Parisian theatrical-set painter turned photographer.

This imagined life story of the real Daguerre plays out against an exciting diorama. Set in the mid 1800s, Europe’s sclerotic monarchies are clinging to power against a rising class of entrepreneurs and scientists. Daguerre is a bit of both, and he stands in the middle of this class struggle, embodying a great irony of innovation and change—his photographic process revolutionizes art and science, but it also slowly poisons him. Like Daguerre, few of us escape progress unscathed.

Smith wonderfully depicts the messy, lethal process of marshalling sunlight to fix images with mercury vapor. But his storytelling is sloppy at times—the plot predictable, and the book plagued with inconsistencies. I see little clear evidence of an editor here. It’s too bad—Smith deserves better. A lens with clearer focus would’ve sharpened the image of this first novel.

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