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Early Photos Shine in History Drawn with Light

Historical Society exhibits images dating to 1840s


This hand-colored ambrotype from 1863 depicts Sergeant Henry F. Steward of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment (10.5 cm x 8 cm). Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Historical Society

A wealth of the nation’s earliest photographs is held by the Massachusetts Historical Society, which has assembled the best of its collection in an exhibition. These haunting images will be on display through June 30. Titled History Drawn with Light: Early Photographs from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the exhibition showcases images of notable figures, artifacts, and landscapes dating back to 1840, the year photography arrived in America.

Visitors to the historical society library, a stately brick building on Boylston Street near the Fenway, can view one of Boston’s oldest photographs, “The Old Feather Store,” by Francis Calley Gray, a poet and writer who was private secretary to John Quincy Adams. Also on display are portraits and views by early daguerreotype artists, among them Albert S. Southworth and Josiah J. Hawes. Used in photography’s infancy and named for Louis Daguerre, the inventor of the process, daguerreotypes are images produced on silver or silver- and copper-coated plates. One of the first demonstrations of Daguerre’s revolutionary photographic process took place at the Historical Society.

The Massachusetts Historical Society is at 1154 Boylston St., Boston. History Drawn with Light: Early Photographs from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society is free and open to the public through Thursday, June 30, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Phone: 617-536-1608. The MHS is accessible via public transportation; take the MBTA B, C, or D Green line trolley to the Hynes Convention Center stop. More information can be found here.

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

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