A Brief History of Photography

I thought it would be interesting and fun to post a brief history of photography today.  History has always been one of my favorite subjects and I’ve always been fascinated with the past.  I loved learning about the history of photography while attending Prairieview (I graduated in 2006)! I think that it’s really important to know the history of a subject because to truly understand the basics, you have to know where it all comes from so you can build your knowledge on a solid foundation.  So, if you’re interested in learning some facts about photography, I hope you’ll enjoy this post!

*Camera pictures have been made since the renaissance
* Artistic End: Leonardo DaVinci discovered the phenomenon – Camera Obscura (Latin, literally translating to “dark room”)
*Camera Obscura – light entering a small hole in the wall of a darkened room will form an inverted picture of what’s outside on the opposite wall inside, just like a pinhole camera does.
* A more detailed image can be made if you substitute a box for the room and a lens for the hole.  Camera obscura was a prototype of the modern photo camera.

Camera Obscura, 17th-18th centuries (photo above)

 *Method: Darken a room or use a black box, light enters through the lens, hold the paper and move it back and forth until the scene is sharpest (the focal point), then sketch!
*Scientific End: Light has an effect on things in our world ex. tanning (light darkens our skin) or light on jewels that causes them to glisten.
* It was discovered that certain materials are also affected by light….called photosensitive.
* One combo discovered was potassium sulfite coated on white surfaces gets darker when exposed to sunlight.
* In 1802, Thomas Wedgewood, son a a British Potter, a scientist, experimented but couldn’t make the image permanent.
* In 1826, Nicephore Niepce and Louis Daguerre did simultaneous photographic experiments.
* Niepce coated paper, exposed it to sunlight and came up with a negative. He then found substance to bleach the light areas and form a positive.
* Niepce discovered a “permafix” with phosphate and mercury vapours – it was dangerous, but it worked.
* Niepce produced the first photograph in June/July 1827.  He was able to record an obscure image of the view outside of his window. The image (shown below) is difficult to decipher, but there is a building on the left, a tree, and a barn immediately in front. The exposure lasted eight hours, so the sun had time to move from east to west, appearing to shine on both sides of the building.

 Nicephore Niepce, World’s First Photograph 1827

 * Niepce and Daguerre collaborated but Niepce died early in 1833, leaving his notes to Daguerre and left the gates open for Daguerre to claim a bigger piece of history.
* In 1837, Daguerre perfected the box as camera and exposed treated metal plates to produce shiny metal positives of extreme detail.  He called them Daguerreotypes.
* You needed special velvet boxes for viewing Daguerreotypes to cut the glare.
* In 1835, Henry Fox Talbot used silver nitrate and other solutions and achieved relative permanence – enough to last several decades.
* We owe the name “Photography” to Sir John Herschel, who first used the term in 1839, the year the photographic process became public. The word is derived from the Greek words for light and writing.
* Sir John Herschel came up with a way of making the first glass negative as opposed to metal, but his process was difficult to reproduce.
* In 1851, Frederick Scoff Archer, an English sculptor, invented the wet process. Method: You needed a dark room or box to coat the glass plates with photosensitive chemistry, expose in camera while still wet, then need to develop in a darkroom before the emulsion dried all in a very short period of time.
* Some travel photographer in the late 1800’s would document the landscape with this process needing a mule, cart, glass plates, chemicals and a portable darkroom tent. Very cumbersome!
*In 1879, the dry plate was invented, a glass negative plate with a dried gelatin emulsion. Dry plates could be stored for a period of time. Photographers no longer needed portable darkrooms and could now hire technicians to develop their photographs. Dry processes absorbed light quickly, so rapidly that the hand-held camera was now possible.
* In 1884, George Eastman introduced flexible film, allowing multiple images to be produced on light-sensitized paper. His social circle included Dupont who was making plastic at the time.
* In 1888, George Eastman introduced the box camera, and photography could now reach a much greater number of people. With his slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” he brought photography to the masses.
* 1889 – The first commercial transparent roll film.
* George Eastman established Kodak
*FUN FACT: Kodak is called Kodak because George Eastman wanted to find a name that could be pronounced correctly in any language around the world.
*  In 1901, the Kodak Brownie was introduced.  For $1.50, you got a box camera loaded with 100 shots, exposed them, sent them back to Kodak and you received your prints.
* Quality of the brownie wasn’t that good because the negatives were so small.
* Modifications were made with silver nitrate coated onto plastic to form roll film with larger negatives.
* Note: Silver Nitrate is a key ingredient of TNT which while fine on glass plates, was quite a fire hazard on plastic.  Think of old film theatres burning down because of the static electricity sparks caused while running plastic film through a movie projector.
* In 1908, Kodak made “safety film” with a silver halide base, much more stable.
* Still needed glass plates for commercial work.
* 1913 – The introduction of EASTMAN Portrait Film began a transition to the use of sheet film instead of glass plates for professional photographers.
* The first digitally scanned photograph was produced in 1957.
* The same principles of photography have applied from it’s conception till now, the only real changes have been in the tools used making photography easier for everyone – professionals and amateurs alike.