Aug 03 2009

The Oldest Living Daguerreian

Published by at 11:41 am under Portrait sittings

A recent portrait by Eric Mertens sheds light on our oldest living practitioner, Ray Phillips, who learnt the finer points of the process from Charles Tremear, the patriarch of the twentieth-century daguerreotype in America. The latter operated a studio from 1929 till his death in 1943, in Greenfield Village, part of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Tremear was a traveling tintypist until he found work with Ford Motor Company in 1909, and in 1929 was asked to create authentic “old-style” tintypes for visitors to Greenfield Village. Tremear made portraits of about 100,000 persons, including Thomas Edison, Joe Louis and Walt Disney. Beyond the tintypes, though, he taught himself the daguerreotype process using original equipment and manuals.

Ray Phillips had been working on the process since 1936 before he had a portrait sitting early one morning in 1941 with Charles Tremear. Ray was so inspired by the event that he went home and talked his dad into putting skylights into the garage to upgrade his facilities. Ray continued to make daguerreotypes over the next 15 years before moving his efforts and resources into phonographs.

This latest portrait sitting was facilitated by tintypist René Rondeau (a friend of Ray Phillips) and it was a day Eric will always remember, filled with daguerreian anecdotes and great conversation.

Images below show the portrait and the day at Eric’s studio.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “The Oldest Living Daguerreian”

  1. 70's Dageron 04 Aug 2009 at 3:42 pm

    A great story that needed to be told; I want more, more detail, more photos, these stories are so very important now. With the changes in photography and the large number of persons who have no idea of the trials made by those photographers who perfected historic photo processes against the tide of popular conveience.
    Good job, love the photographs, keep those stories comming.
    Walter Johnson

  2. Mercuryon 06 Aug 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Out of the blue, Eric! (and I’m not talking solarization.) What an honor! And as Walter said, a critical piece of history for us relative newcomers. Can we hope for a “full treatment” (as Walter said, more, more more) both here and in print?

    A sincere Thank You to yourself, Rene Rondeau and Ray Phillips for making this happen.

    Ken Nelson

  3. lchadwellon 30 Jun 2010 at 10:55 am


    I came across your website today after a friend nicely mentioned she saw the pictures. Ray Phillips is my grandfather and several of the pictures have my parents (Ray’s daughter and son-in-law) in them which was cute to me.

    My grandfather’s memory is not what is used to be but I have gotten many stories through the years about his daguerreotypes and he proudly displayed the picture you made for him on his wall at his home until he moved into a retirement community this year where it is now displayed as well. It didn’t occur to me how unique all this was until I got into my 20s now and see him places online and on tv sometimes.

    Thank you for the wonderful article and I know if my grandpa were to say something to your readers it would be to check out the collection of CA history daguerreotypes at the new Oakland Art Museum. I took him there a few weeks ago for lunch and to see them and he could only rave about them afterwards.


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