The daguerreotype must also be situated within the larger context of Anglo-French relations, and the broader uses of photography which circulated through them. In April 1855, Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie paid a state visit to London where they were taken to the Crystal Palace, site of the 1851 Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations. Four months later, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made a reciprocal visit to Paris where they, in turn, were taken to the Palais de l’Industrie, site of the Exposition Universelle. These visits, which constituted the larger political context in which the visit of La Capricieuse must be situated, had great symbolic significance. Allies in the Crimea, England and France enjoyed a new friendship which had replaced longstanding enmity between the nations and their rulers. The visits symbolized and cemented the alliance between the two former enemies.4 Part of the diplomatic glue of these new Anglo-French relations consisted of the taking, viewing and giving of photographs.5 In this atmosphere of Anglo-French entente, and in the context of the photograph as a space of diplomatic relations, the Chalifoux daguerreotype emerges as a visual statement of patriotic remembrance and political resistance, an expression of fealty between Old France and New France.
Chalifoux, evidently, was not the only one who saw the mission of La Capricieuse in historical and patriotic terms, as an effort of the Mother Country to remember the faithful despite loss of contact for almost a century. At the time of the visit of La Capricieuse, Guillaume Barthé, a former member of parliament and an editor of several journals, had just arrived from Paris where he had just published a book entitled, Le Canada reconquis par la France [Canada reconquered by France] which caused de Belvèze concern for its potential to compromise his mission. De Belvèze stressed to Barthé that
[his] title was contrary to the political intentions of the Emperor and of France, contrary to the interests of his country under a liberal and protecting regime which created a true independence; which if anybody had any suspicion that there was a link between my mission and the title of that book, I would have been unable to taken another step in Canada.6
In this light, the daguerreotype is neither neutral nor passive, but rather an active response to the political and cultural mission of de Belvèze.
The extent to which this daguerreotype represented commonly held notions cannot be determined from the photograph alone. Nor, given its limited circulation, can it be credited with constituting notions of French Canadian identity or strengthening patriotic ties. Whereas the four costumed boys were seen by hundreds of spectators, marchers and mass-goers during the fêtes nationales in Montreal, the daguerreotype itself was not. As a unique image and as a gift for a specific audience, it had a limited sphere of influence. Yet, the daguerreotype was a permanent record of Chalifoux’s sartorial expression of patriotic and religious origins. Created to take advantage of a historic occasion and destined for presentation to the Empress, it was intended to allow her to visualize the role of the costumed characters in the St. Jean-Baptiste Day festivities. Its message of romantic origins, religious and patriotic memories, and French Canadian identity is embedded in the visual content of the image and anchored by the textual content of the inscription. If the boys’ role in the fêtes nationales may be viewed as a performance of the foundational myths of French Canada, then Doane’s daguerreotype can be considered the visual residue of that performance of identity.7
At the same time, this daguerreotype was created with authorial intent. The blindstamp on the brass passepartout indicates that the daguerreotype was taken by Thomas Coffin Doane. The signature on the inscription and the newspaper account in La Minerve reveal that it was Alfred Chalifoux, the individual seen at the left of the image, who not only created the costumes but also commissioned the daguerreotype. Whereas curatorial convention credits responsibility for the daguerreotype as a visual image to Doane, analysis of it as a visual document ascribes authorship to Chalifoux. The difference, in archival terms, is a significant one, for it establishes that this charming and seemingly innocent image was, in reality, a serious, politically charged message. Not simply a photographic work of art or a visual fragment of the past, this daguerreotype can be examined as the material evidence of an act of communication between author and audience -- in this case between a Montreal tailor and the Empress of France. It was created with authorial intent and ideological purpose to extend the spectacle of the costumed individuals and the characters they represented, across time and space. It survives, therefore, not only as a permanent visual record of the costumed boys’ performance of identity but also as the material evidence of an act of communication between a French Canadian with a patriotic desire to confirm to the highest level of political authority in France that French Canadians remembered and celebrated their origins, remained loyal and were willing to bear arms, wearing the colours of France.
Presented to the National Archives of Canada by a descendant of Captain de Belvèze, the daguerreotype may never have reached the Empress, or, having seen it, the Empress may have allowed de Belvèze to keep it. Alternatively, was its message of patriotic remembrance interpreted by de Belvèze as potentially subversive in light of the appearance of Barthé’s book and, therefore, inappropriate to transmit to the Empress? In either case, the degree to which it entered the geographical imagination was indeed limited. Therefore, while it may have reflected ideas about French Canada held by Chalifoux and, to an extent yet to be determined, by others, it did not actively constitute ideas of French Canadian identity, either in the minds of French Canadians to whom it was never shown, or in the mind of the Empress by whom it may never have been seen. Nevertheless, in asking not only what the daguerreotype was of and what it was about, but also what it was created to do, we can begin to understand its meaning as a symbolic space of remembrance and resistance, and to appreciate it as a primary source for the study of French Canada in the mid-nineteenth century.
This essay is based upon a case study in my doctoral thesis, “Agent of Sight, Site of Agency: The Photograph in the Geographical Imagination,” (unpublished Ph.D thesis, Queen’s University, 1998), written with the assistance of an Education Leave from the National Archives of Canada and a Doctoral Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
- Frances Dimond and Roger Taylor, Crown and Camera: The Royal Family and Photography 1842-1910. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987, p.96. As Victoria recorded in her diary after a visit to the tomb of Napoléon I at Les Invalides, “There I stood at the arm of Napoleon III, his nephew, before the coffin of England’s bitterest foe; I, the granddaughter of that King who hated him most and who most vigorously opposed him, and this very nephew, who bears his name, being my nearest and dearest ally!” Quoted in Malcolm Daniel, The Photographs of Édouard Baldus, with an essay by Barry Bergdoll. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1994. pp. 52-53; note 125, p. 264
- Victoria and Albert, and Napoleon and Eugénie were avid collectors and enthusiastic supporters of the new medium, but the role of photography in these 1855 visits goes beyond news reporting and souvenir collecting. For details of the photographs taken and exchanged, see Frances Dimond and Roger Taylor, Crown and Camera: The Royal Family and Photography, 1842-1910. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987; Elizabeth Anne McCauley, Industrial Madness: Commercial Photoraphy in Paris, 1848-1871. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994; Malcolm R. Daniel, The Photographs of Édouard Baldus. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1994
- The incident is described in “Cinquante ans après, 1855-1905,” [Fifty years after, 1855-1905] La Presse (Montreal), 15 March 1905