The daguerreotype was the precursor to the modern photography process; an image is exposed directly onto a highly polished silver metal plate, its surface coated with silver halide particles deposited by iodine vapor-- a later advancement was the use of bromine and chlorine vapors to shorten the exposure time. The daguerreotype produced a negative image, but the mirrored surface of the plate reflects the captured image, making it appear positive once light is exposed to the photograph. Early experimenters had tinkered with the idea of photography for over a hundred years, but it was Louis Daguerre who finally perfected the technique in about 1839. Less then a year later the rich history of American photography began in New Orleans at #3 St Charles Street, in the private studio/residence of Jules Lion, "a freeman of color," who opened the first daguerreotype studio in New Orleans and one of the very first in the entire United States.
Born in 1810 in Paris, France, Jules Lion was the first of about fifty documented black daguerreotypists who operated galleries/studios in the first half of the 19th century in the U.S. He originally moved to New Orleans from France in 1837 where he was a lithographer and portrait painter -- at the Exposition of Paris of 1833 he was the youngest lithographer to be awarded an honorable mention. It’s believed that Lion returned briefly to Paris in 1839 and 1840 to study photography with Louis Daguerre. Upon his return Lion exhibited his first daguerreotypes in New Orleans in 1840; unfortunately only a couple of them have survived. By 1841 in New Orleans, he was lecturing on photography, co-founded an art school and was running a successful studio. Not much more is known of Jules Lion, except the occasional newspaper announcement and city records listing him as a professor of drawing at the College of Louisiana from 1852 to 1865. In his later years he returned to painting portraitures. Among his most famous commissions were portraits of President Andrew Jackson and naturalist John J. Audubon. Throughout his career he continued teaching and occasionally returning to Paris to exhibit his lithographs and daguerreotypes until his death in New Orleans in 1866.