Daguerrotype of Dr. Maximillian LaBorde of Columbia, SC (May 1840)

Dr. Maximillian LaBorde


In Partners With The Sun:  South Carolina Photographers 1840-1940, Harvey S. Teal discusses the first photographic portrait made in the state, a daguerrotype of Dr. Maximillian LaBorde who was a a professor of metaphysics, logic and rhetoric at South Carolina College (now The University of South Carolina).   Dr. William H. Ellet, a colleague of LaBorde’s at the college, made that daguerrotype in May 1840.

LaBorde did not enjoy the tedious process of sitting for the long exposure and later recorded his displeasure with the whole experience in his History of South Carolina College, published in 1859.  It seems that Laborde was so unhappy with his own likeness that he eventually disposed of the daguerrotype:


When the first intelligence was brought of the brilliant discovery of Daguerre, Dr. Ellet set to work at once and was taking photographic likenesses before the next vessel crossed the Atlantic.  I think I was his first subject – I might say, victim.  He had informed me he was getting up an apparatus, and I was under contract to sit for for my likeness.  When all things were ready, he called, and took me to the scene of his operations, which was in the rear of his laborotory.  The spot selected was one of the sunniest in the “sunny South,” and the day was one of the hottest in a Southern spring.  The reader will bear in mind that the art was now in its infancy, and that the effort of the professor was strictly experimental.  The light was to sketch the picture, and it was conceived that everything depended upon having enough of its August presence.  To make sure of this, a frame of ten square feet was constructed, and upon this was spread a sheet of show white canvas.  I was required to sit with my head uncovered in the hottest sun at noon day, and this frame of canvas was placed immediately behind me.  My situation was about as painful as that of Regulus when the Carthagenians cut off his eyelids, and brought him suddenly into the sun, that it might dart its strongest heat upon him.  How long I occupied the chair I cannot tell, but I know repeated attempts to catch my likeness were made, and that my poor brain felt as if it would burst from congestion.  At last it was announced to my infinite joy, that he had a portrait.  I left my seat with feelings of a martyr.  There was a portrait; but what a portrait!  The eyes were closed, the forehead corrugated, and the expression hideous.  Yet it was a portrait, and the great fact proved that light could paint it!  I preserved it for many years, and though I would not have it to grace the present volume, I would be glad, on account of its historic interest, if it had a present existence.  


Partners With The Sun