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  Hercules Florence

The French photographer who first coined the word photography was born in Nice, France on February 29, 1804. Information regarding the early childhood and education of Antoine Hercule Romuald Florence is practically nonexistent. It is, however, known that he received training as a draftsman while in France and was perhaps involved in anthropological research as a young man. The consul general of Russia, the baron of Langsdorff, selected Mr. Florence to document his scientific expedition to South America in 1824.

Mr. Florence arrived in Sao Carlos Villa (which is now known as Campinas) on May 1, 1824. For the next five years, as a member of the Langsdorff Expedition, he worked to recreate visually and aurally the sights and sounds of South America. To record the regional animals, he invented what he dubbed the zoophonie. During this time, he married a local woman, Maria Angelica Alvares Machado e Vasconcellos and elected to call Campinas home for the rest of his life. A meeting with scientist Joaquim Correa de Mello turned into a lifelong friendship and professional association. Dr. de Mello provided invaluable assistance as Mr. Florence experimented with various types of printing processes. This remote region lacked printing presses, which made publishing his research findings impossible. However, he began noticing that some types of dyes were sensitive to light. He then began experimenting with gold and silver. He used the sunlight to darken the silver nitrate he received from Dr. de Mello to produce images. He named his printing experiments photographie, which means "drawing with light." Mr. Florence then discovered he was able to preserve and retouch the images by treating them with a solution of urine and ammonia. He was able to capture South America visually with a camera obscura he constructed.

Mr. Florence's experiments were published in Rio de Janeiro's Journal de Comercio on December 29, 1839, but unfortunately remained unknown outside of Brazil. In 1840, French Abbot Louis Compte introduced Latin America to the daguerreotype process that had been invented in Europe the previous year. Mr. Florence's techniques differed considerably from the popular daguerreotype method, and so they were largely forgotten. Mr. Florence lived the remainder of his life in relative obscurity, and died on March 27, 1879 in the adopted homeland in which he had lived for five decades. Brazilian photographer Boris Kossoy is responsible for bringing Hercules Florence's experiments to international attention, and today, he is finally being given the proper credit he deserves for his contributions to modern photographic processes.

2007 Focal Encyclopedia of Photography (Burlington, MA: Focal Press/Elsevier), p. 79.

2005 France and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History, Vol. II (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.), p. 450.

2004 Let's Go: Brazil (New York: St. Martin’s Press), p. 26.

2009 Our Scientists (URL:

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