ould you keep a photo of someone you don’t know? Paul Lafavore would. He is an avid collector of antique photos and has a wealth of knowledge about early photography. Almost every wall in his home is filled with photos of long-forgotten subjects. “It started with an interest in the Civil War and going to national parks as a kid,” Lafavore explained. “As I got into Civil War photography, I asked myself, ‘What process was earlier than that?’” His research found that photography was created about 20 years earlier by a Frenchman named Louis Daguerre.

ould you keep a photo of someone you don’t know? Paul Lafavore would.

He is an avid collector of antique photos and has a wealth of knowledge about early photography. Almost every wall in his home is filled with photos of long-forgotten subjects.

“It started with an interest in the Civil War and going to national parks as a kid,” Lafavore explained. “As I got into Civil War photography, I asked myself, ‘What process was earlier than that?’”

His research found that photography was created about 20 years earlier by a Frenchman named Louis Daguerre.

“When he (Daguerre) invented his process in the late 1830s, the government of France gave him money that allowed him to release the process without a patent.”

The process was named daguerreotype, after its inventor, and involves using polished silver plates sensitized with iodine or bromine and developed in a mercury vapor.

Lafavore said from there, photography spread “like wildfire” across the world. “The things I like about early photography are two-fold. I like the history behind the photos, but they are also really great pieces of art,” Lafavore said.

“These images are windows into history, a snapshot in time,” he continued. “What I think about is what it was like before the 1840s to not have photography. They had portrait paintings of people and places but those were interpretations of reality by an artist. Even though they were great, they still weren’t the real thing.”

A small fraction of Lafavore’s collection is currently featured at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. The exhibit is called, “The Collector’s Eye: Early American photography from the Dr. Paul Lafavore Collection,” and will be on display until Oct. 6.

What is the best advice you’ve received about collecting?

“Don’t buy for resale, buy what you like. And if you buy what you like, buy the best you can afford. I’ve used that over the years.”

What is the importance of collecting photos?

“I am the guardian of these photos for someone else. I’m taking my turn to pass these on to someone else, or a museum. They will be dispersed again — that’s how collections work.”

What is your most prized possession?

“My whole-plate daguerreotype of an unknown family. Its size, it’s from Portland, Maine; that combination is very rare. The whole-plate images were essentially the largest commercially available at the time. Instead of talking about sizes of photos like we do today, they talked about a plate of silver. Photographers would buy whole plates of silver, and then cut that up into smaller pieces.”

A whole-plate daguerreotype photo is approximately 6 inches by 8 inches, Lafavore said.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily newsletter.

Recommended for you

Load comments