Minnesota Historical Society M-Flame Logo

Home / Collections / Up Close / Daguerreian Portrait of Joel E. Whitney

MHS Acquires Portrait of Minnesota's Premier Pioneer Photographer

Image of Joel E. WhitneyThe Minnesota Historical Society recently made an important acquisition that underscores the significance of early photography in the state. A pre-Civil War daguerreian portrait of Minnesota photographer Joel E. Whitney and five carte de visite paper photographs of Whitney (including a stunning collage of Whitney’s hands, feet and facial self portrait), his wife and their family comprise the acquisition.

Joel E. Whitney is Minnesota’s premier pioneer photographer. Trained in the art of “capturing mirror likenesses” during the earliest days of photography, Whitney operated, first as a daguerreian and subsequently a wet plate photographer, in St. Paul and Minneapolis from 1850-1871. He is nationally recognized as one of America’s foremost pioneer photographic artists.

The Society’s collection holds more than 800 of Whitney’s images, including seven daguerreotypes, taken during the 1850s of St. Anthony Falls, St. Paul and residents. These are rare views of Minnesota’s pre-Civil War scenes and citizens.

Daguerreotypes were mirror-like, one-of-a-kind portraits (no negative was involved) that first appeared in 1839 and peaked in popularity by 1858. To have a “daguerreian portrait” of Minnesota’s most prolific and famous photographer is a benchmark contribution to the iconographic history of the state. This acquisition completes a singular collection of Whitney’s pioneering work held by the Minnesota Historical Society. It was secured with private funds from the Lila J. Goff Acquisitions Endowment, the Josephine Harper Darling Estate and the Virginia Moe Endowment Fund. Tentative plans are underway to display this daguerreian portrait of Whitney and selections of his work from the Society’s collection, in 2008.

Learn More:

Whitney's Images in the Visual Resources Database

Whitney's Works in the Library Collection

Records in the Library related to Joel E. Whitney

Photograph Collection at MHS

Caring for Photographs