Photo of the Week: Mexican-American War

The U.S. declared war on Mexico on this day in 1847 after Mexico refused to recognize Texas's independence and subsequent annexation into the United States. Not only did this war finally win US control of Texas, it also resulted in the US purchase of most of the southwest (comprising five present-day states and parts of 4 others) for a mere $18 million.

The Mexican-American War was the first to be documented by the new medium of photography, as the process was perfected in France only a few years before and introduced in the US in the early 1840s. In the early 1980s, the Carter acquired a group of Mexican War daguerreotypes, which were subsequently the subject of a major exhibition called Eyewitness to War: Prints and Daguerreotypes of the Mexican War, 1846-1848.

According to the exhibition catalogue, these rare works are made more special because "daguerreotypes were made on the spot,”¦each image was exposed in the camera and developed as a unique positive. Thus every daguerreotype plate, while in the camera, was in close proximity to the subject recorded on its surface. When we hold a daguerreotype of Mexican War troops in our hand, we hold a piece of silver-plated copper that was actually on the same street as those soldiers 140 [sic] years ago." Even though I see and handle 19th century photographs all the time, that idea gives me chills.

For photo of the week, here are some of my favorite Mexican War daguerreotypes.


Artist unknown, Col. Hamtramck, Virginia Volunteers, daguerreotype, ca. 1847


Artist unknown, Mexican Family, daguerreotype, ca. 1847


Artist unknown, [Street scene in Durango, Mexico], daguerreotype, ca. 1847


Artist unknown, [Parroquia de Santiago, Saltillo, Mexico], daguerreotype, ca. 1847


Artist unknown, Burial Place of Son of Henry Clay in Mexico, daguerreotype, 1847