The Beginnings of Photography
A brief history…

The name “Photography”…
• Sir John Herschel first used the term “photography” in 1839 (the year the process was released to the public).
• The term is derived from the Greek words for light and writing.

Two distinct processes…
• Camera Obscura (dark room) had been in existence for nearly 400 years. A drawing dated 1519, by Leonardo da Vinci showed a camera obscura. About the same time it was advocated as an aid to drawing.
• Chemical process…for hundreds of years people had been aware that some colors became bleached by the sun, but made little distinction between heat, air and light.



Development of the chemical process…
• In the 1600’s, Robert Boyle (a founder of the Royal Society) reported that silver chloride turned dark under exposure, but appeared to believe it was due to exposure to the air.
• In the early 17th century, Angelo Sala noticed that powered nitrate of silver was blackened by exposure to the sun.
• In 1727, Johann Heinrich Schultze discovered that certain liquids change color when exposed to light.
• In the early 1800’s, Thomas Wedgewood was able to capture images (silhouettes), but the images would not survive. There was no know method of making the images permanent.

The first successful picture…
• In 1827, Joseph Nicephore Niepce successfully produced a picture using a material that hardened under exposure to light. 
• The exposure took 8 hours
• The first image was sold at auction by Sutherby’s in 2002 for $443,882.

The process develops…
• In 1829, Niepce went into partnership with Louis Daguerre.
• In 1833, only four years later, Niepce died.
• Daguerre continued to experiment and discovered a way for developing photographic plates that reduced exposure time from 8 hours to just 30 minutes. He also discovered that images could be made permanent by immersing them in salt.

The government steps in…
• In July, 1839, following a report on the process by Paul Delaroche, a leading scholar of the day, the French government buys the rights to the process.
• In August, 1839, the process is made public. Daguerre names the process, the Daguerreotype.
• The ability to capture an image with no knowledge of drawing excites the public and “Daguerromania” becomes the craze.
• Artists see “Photography” as a threat.

Disadvantages of the Daguerreotype…
• 30 minute exposure.
• One of a kind image (couldn’t be reproduced).
• There was a growing need for additional copies.
• An additional copy would require an additional camera.

Enter the Calotype…
• Invented by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839.
• His paper to the Royal Society of London on January 19, 1839 actually preceded Daguerre.
• Calotype produced a poor image quality compared to the Daguerreotype.
• The Calotype used a small paper negative (1” square) that could produce an unlimited number of positive images. (First paper negative produced in 1835.)
• First photographic book was produced in 1850.

The Collodian Process…
• Introduced by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851.
• Reduced exposure time to just 2 to 3 seconds.
• Prints could be produced much cheaper than the Daguerreotype. (About 1/10th the cost.)
• A wet plate process, including exposure. Plates would have to be developed immediately after exposure.

The introduction of Gelatin…
• In 1871, Dr. Richard Maddox discovered a way of using gelatin (discovered only a few years earlier) instead of glass.
• This lead to the development of the dry plate process.
• Could be developed much more quickly.
• Lead to the idea of factory made photographic material. (Major turning point…)

The introduction of Celluloid…
• Celluloid was invented in the early 1860’s.
• John Corbett persuaded a manufacture to produce a very thin celluloid as a backing for a light sensitive gelatin.
• George Eastman introduced a flexible film in 1884.
• Four years later, George Eastman introduced the box camera.

Other important names…
Herman Vogel developed a means whereby film could become sensitive to green light.
Eadweard Muybridge paved the way for motion picture photography.

© Robert Leggat, 2000