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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Marcus Aurelius Root

Other: M.A. Root 
Dates:  1808 - 1888
Born:  US, OH, Granville
Died:  US, PA, Philadelphia
Active:  US
American Daguerreotypist and photographer.
Born in Granville, Ohio in 1808, Marcus Aurelius Root moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the early 1830s to study painting with Thomas Sully. Sully’s lack of enthusiasm for his pupil’s artistic skills led Root to open a penmanship school before he turned to the new medium of daguerreotyping as a way to earn his living.[1] Root seems to have whole heartedly committed to this new endeavor since in 1844 he reportedly had daguerreotype studios in Mobile, AL; New Orleans, LA; St. Louis, MO; and Philadelphia.[2] By 1845 he had resettled back in Philadelphia with a studio at 140 Chestnut Street. Root headed up one of the city’s most esteemed studios attracting well-known patrons including failed presidential candidates Henry Clay and Winfield Scott as well as local Philadelphians. In 1849 in partnership with his brother Samuel, he opened a New York City gallery located on Broadway and remained part of that business for several years.[3]
In 1856 Marcus Root’s life took an unexpected turn when he was severely injured in a train accident. Root began writing a book, The Camera and the Pencil, during the long years spent recuperating from his accident. Published in 1864, The Camera and the Pencil provided a history of photography along with technical information about the medium, but primarily focused on promoting the aesthetics of the practice. Root wanted photographers to be considered equal to painters and argued for the importance of a pleasing studio environment for the sitters and an artistic eye for the operators. Good photography, Root argued, was not merely the successful mechanical operation of a piece of equipment. Root also wrote extensively for photographic journals including Philadelphia Photographer, Humphrey’s Journal of Photography and the Allied Arts and Sciences, and Photographic and Fine Arts Journal.[4]
Root never completely recovered his health after his accident and the Root Gallery in Philadelphia seems to have been taken over by another photographer. In the late 1850s George S. Cook’s name appears on some daguerreotypes produced by the Root Gallery. Although Root may not have been actively working as a photographer in his later years, his importance as one of the profession’s earliest practitioners was recognized when he was chosen to select photographic material for inclusion in the display “The Progress of a New Art, from August, 1839 to May 1876,” on view as part of the nation’s Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia.[5] Marcus Root died in Philadelphia in 1888 from injuries received in a streetcar accident.
  1. Eleanor H. Gustafson, “Collectors’ Notes.” The Magazine Antiques (February 2008): 28-30
  2. Marcus A. Root, The Camera and the Pencil, or the Heligraphic Art, 1864. (Pawlet, VT: Helios, 1971), 365-366
  3. William and Marie Brey, Philadelphia Photographers, 1840-1900: A Directory with Biographical Sketches (Cherry Hill, NJ: Willowdale Press, 1992), n.p. states that Samuel Root took over the gallery in 1851. John S. Craig, compiler and editor, Craig’s Daguerreian Registry, vol. 3 (Torrington, CT: John S. Craig, 1996), 491, however, states that M.A. and Samuel Root were listed as daguerreians at 363 Broadway in New York City until 1853.
  4. William S. Johnson, Nineteenth-Century Photography: An Annotated Bibliography, 1839-1879 (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1990), 528-531
  5. Julie K. Brown, Making Culture Visible: The Public Display of Photography at Fairs, Expositions and Exhibitions in the United States, 1847 – 1900 (Amsterdam: Harewood Academic Publishers, 2001), 72
Sources for Marcus Root Biography:
William and Marie Brey. Philadelphia Photographers, 1840-1900: A Directory with Biographical Sketches. (Cherry Hill, NJ: Willowdale Press, 1992).
John S. Craig, compiler & editor. Craig’s Daguerreian Registry, vol. 3. (Torrington, CT: John S. Craig, 1996).
Clyde H. Dilley. “Marcus Aurelius Root: Heliographer.” The Daguerreian Annual, 1991: 42-47.
“Fortunes and Misfortunes of an Artist,” Scientific American 6 (February 8, 1862): 87.
Eleanor H. Gustafson. “Collectors’ Notes.” The Magazine Antiques (February 2008): 28-30.
William S. Johnson. Nineteenth-Century Photography: An Annotated Bibliography, 1839-1879. (Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1990).
[Sarah J. Weatherwax, Curator of Prints and Photographs, The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107]
(pers. email, Sarah Weatherwax to Alan Griffiths, 6 January 2014)

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
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