Smithsonian

Background: Children

Long after it was taken, this daguerreotype took on a special meaning in the history of photography. Thomas Eakins grew up to become a painter and a photographic pioneer. He joined Eadweard Muybridge in the study of motion. Later, he designed a machine that was a model for the movie projector. All that aside, the picture is very similar to hundreds of daguerreotypes in the Smithsonian's collections.

The daguerreotypists carried on the traditions of painted portraits. The sitters were often shown with attributes -- objects that helped to express identity. The bow and arrow that Thomas is holding was a common symbol of masculinity for boys.

The photographer tinted the picture by hand. Here, as in many pictures, we see the art of photography straining against the limits of the technology. The wish to show life in all its color was always there.