The first showpieces of photography were still-life compositions that-except for their lack of color-were often all but indistinguishable from paintinqs. With great care their creators laid out arrays of household objects, flowers, fruit and game in eleqant. balanced arrangements, carefully lighted them and then recorded the image. Given the cumbersome equipment and processes then in use, such compositions were a natural starting point for photography. A still-life subject, unlike living creatures, did not twitch restlessly during a long exposure. It could also provide a controlled variety of interesting shapes and textures for the photographer to explore at his leisure.
Among the abler professionals who experimented with still-life themes was Henri LeSecq, the official photographer for France's Historical Monuments Commission. Le Secq was a master technician whose architectural photographs were so sharp in detail that an admirer remarked they were easier to study than the real thing, Yet when Le Secq turned to still life, he immediately went beyond mere record making. He had a real painter's eye for masses and a broad range of tones; he even used rough paper for his calotype prints to soften the details. The rich, glowing mixture of whites, grays and blacks thus produced was an early promise' that the camera could both record and transfigure what it saw.