Likeness and Landscape: Thomas M. Easterly and the Art of the Daguerreotype

June 16, 2014 Posted by: Tom Dewey, Librarian

Likeness and Landscape: Thomas M. Easterly and the Art of the Daguerreotype, by Delores Kilgo. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 1994.

Delores Kilgo’s book Likeness & Landscape: Thomas M. Easterly and the Art of the Daguerreotype sets a new standard for excellent daguerreotype reproduction and celebrates Thomas M. Easterly as a significant figure in early photography.

Based in St. Louis, Easterly was at the mid-nineteenth-century frontier, giving him access to the Native Americans he began portraying in the 1840s and whose portraits constitute one of the highlights of the book. Easterly's main work was portraiture, but he also made an unusual number of landscapes on the silvery plates.  He realized that St. Louis was changing rapidly and he went about recording what he saw, including the few remaining French colonial houses, the Indian mounds, and the Old Courthouse in the midst of remodeling and construction, before the 1828 courthouse was town down. Easterly continued using daguerreotypes into the 1870s, long after other photographers had switched to the glass-plate process.

The author accompanies the photos with compelling and informative text that helps illustrate the time period and the people explored in the images. Her extensive research and the beautiful pictures support her assertion of Easterly's work as rivaling that of Southworth and Hawes, the Boston partners generally thought to be the finest daguerreotype portraitists of the mid-1800s. The book is a valuable, scholarly record and will delight serious historians and casual readers, as it gives the flavor of both urbanization and wild frontier in mid-nineteenth-century America. The author states in her book, “Easterly’s likenesses and landscapes recall a time when each photographic image was unique, deliberate, and cherished.” That sums up the visual mastery of these images.

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