Diploma da Maçonaria, first official image recorded by Hércules Florence in 1832.
Each week we pay homage to a select "Original Creator"—an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today's creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields. Bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Hércules Florence.
Photography is undoubtedly one of the greatest inventions of the 19th century, revolutionizing the way we create and experience our visual world. The first photograph dates back to 1826, taken by Frenchman Nicéphore Niépce, who developed the first technical heliograph. But photography isn't really the invention of any one single man. Other contenders for the title of “inventor of photography” include Louis Daguerre, also French, who continued the experiments of Niépce and was responsible for the decisive discovery of the first image created by the direct action of light. In England, William Fox Talbot investigated the discovery further using photosensitive paper with chemical agents to produce a developed image.
About the same time, Frenchman by the name of Hércules Florence settled in Brazil and continued the research of his former countrymen, developing advanced techniques that eventually achieved superior results to Daguerre's. Florence, however, being considerably removed from Europe, only gained recognition for his invention, which he developed in 1832, more than a century and a half later, in 1976, through efforts of the Brazilian photographer and historian Boris Kossoy. Moreover, Florence’s diary records prove that, in 1834, he was the first man to coin the term photographie.
Born Antoine Hércules Romuald Florence in 1804 in Nice, France, the inventor settled in Brazil when was only 20 years old, in the city of Campinas in São Paulo. Florence went to work as a clerk initially, then in a bookstore and print shop where he could hone his talents as a designer. Being an accomplished artist since childhood, he went on to join an expedition into the interior of Brazil, including the Amazon, where he was responsible for creating the visual records of the trip. The expedition, led by German naturalist Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff, was fundamental to Florence’s eventual discovery of photography, forcing the young inventor to spend the majority of 1825 to 1829 recording tirelessly, and with great precision, the details of Brazil’s natural landscape and its inhabitants.
In the image below we can see the appreciation for detail that eventually prompted Florence to seek new ways to snap pictures, also placing him alongside Adrien Aimé-Taunay as pioneers of Brazilian history and geography.
Upon returning to Campinas, Florence needed to print his drawings, so he invented his own method, poligraphie—or polygraph—a printout similar to a mimeograph. This technique led him to the discovery of chemical elements that influenced the forms of printing, such as silver nitrate, which in contact with certain tissues when exposed to the sun would result in the first concepts of positive and negative development in photography.
Besides being a designer, painter, historian, geographer and inventor of photography in Brazil, Florence was also the founder of the first newspaper of São Paulo's inner state area in the city of Campinas, in 1836, O Paulista. In 1847 he registered his typo-sílabas invention, the pioneering concept of a shorthand method of writing using symbols. Florence also registered his Pulvografia invention, which is a printing process through the use of powder and glue.
Below, the inventor's self-portrait.