What can we say about this quality? In his seminal study Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes recalls the uncanny sensation he had when gazing at a different Beard daguerreotype:
"One day, quite some time ago, I happened on a photograph of Napoleon's youngest brother, Jerome, taken in 1852. And I realized then, with an amazement that I have not been able to lessen since: 'I am looking at eyes that looked at the Emperor.' Sometimes I would mention this amazement, but no one seemed to share it, or even to understand it (life consists of these little touches of solitude)."
It is that odd solitude -- the awareness that every photograph is both oddly living -- preserving the gaze of the subject in a way that almost seems, wizard-like, to peer back at you out of its frame -- and yet announcing, without even having to say so, the ultimate mortality of us all -- that makes the Franklin daguerreotypes especially rich. Every one of them is a window, and a tombstone.
Which makes, I suppose, the mounting at Matlock a sort of cemetery, ranked in rows. The order differs from that used by the engraver for the Illustrated London News, so I am skeptical that the mounting was done for their use. It has the look of something assembled by a patient, diligent, but (in modern terms) untrained archivist, one who wished very much to gather, preserve, and state the significance of these images. "Sailed from England 19th May 1845 in Search of the North-West Passage" -- the inscription seems to suggest they still sail, and will always. For how can they be "lost" when, before our eyes, we have them right here?
So what more do we see? I invite readers to post their own responses here. I'd be interested in further thoughts on Franklin, Gore, or any other of the men. What do we see in them, and what do they reveal in us?