Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre by Dominic Smith

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

# Hardcover: 320 pages
# Publisher: Atria (February 7, 2006)
# Price: $24.00
# ISBN: 0743271149

I read this book on the long road from Michigan to Austin, Texas, where the author resides. I was on a journey to meet Dominic Smith, to interview him for the Kalamazoo College alumni magazine, LuxEsto. Smith had made a short stop in Kalamazoo years ago, but he had left an impression. Now, as I read his debut novel, I soon understood -- this young author will be leaving an indelible impression on every reader to come across his work.

Brilliance rises like a mercury vapor from the very first lines, making giddy with the magic of characters rising up, taking form, and coming alive on the page:

"When the vision came, he was in the bathtub. After a decade of using mercury vapors to cure his photographic images, Louis Daguerre's mind had faltered - a pewter plate left too long in the sun. But during his final lucid minutes on this cold evening of 1846, he felt a strange calm..."

Smith has lifted moments of history and wrapped them in vapors of imagination. How might this visionary, the founding father of photography, Louis Daguerre, have seen the world? What is the lens of his eye on life and might we, for a moment in time, look through it and see as he might have seen? He created his art at a time when he thought the world was coming to an end. Perhaps for that reason alone, his photographic images had a mystical aura about them, and his subject matter approached with such evident passion.

Daguerre makes a list of subjects he must capture in his photographs before it is too late:

1. a beautiful woman (naked)
2. the sun
3. the moon
4. the perfect Paris boulevard
5. a pastoral scene
6. galloping horses
7. a perfect apple
8. a flower
9. the king of France
10. Isobel Le Fournier

And it is Isobel who becomes the embodiment, perhaps even the lens, through which Daguerre sees all. She is his first love. She is his last. And the thread that weaves through all between.

"He could imagine kissing her and was appalled by that - it seemed like a desire to lie facedown in an icy stream, to burrow inside the very marrow of her youth and beauty and somehow indemnify himself against Armageddon. He looked down at his shaking hands, at the cordage of vein and tendon, at the sun's chemical blackening. He felt impossibly old..."

'The light is changing,' he said.

'Is it?'

'Dusk is a kiss between night and day.'

'You have an eye for romance, but perhaps no heart for it.'"

I as reader might argue - Daguerre would not have been willing to play with the madness of mercury vapors if he had not the heart for love. And it is clear, this new author, Dominic Smith, has the heart necessary for his own medium of art.

By the time I drove into Austin, I was enthralled with this find of a new star rising. "The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre" is a book not to be missed. Not to be forgotten. I await Smith's own list of 10 to be captured in his own medium.

With highest recommendations.

Photo: Dominic Smith at Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas.

For more about Dominic Smith and his debut novel, visit:


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