Displaying Creativity – The History of Photography

Photography has had a lasting impact on history. Originally developed as a means of preserving history, photography has undergone many changes and has become more accessible to the public. The following inventors have each played an important role in the development of photography and the process by which photographers are captured, developed, and replicated; without the contribution of these innovators, we would not have the technologies we enjoy today.

Thomas Wedgwood was an early contributor to the field of photography. Along with Sir Humphrey Davey, Thomas wrote a paper about the process of creating what can be described as a photogram in 1802. The paper was entitled “An Account of a Method of Copying Paintings upon Glass and of Making Profiles by the Agency of Light upon Nitrate of Silver.” Unfortunately, Thomas and Humphrey were unable to fix the images. Thomas and Humphrey’s work helped to inspire other early photographers.

Joseph Niépce is credited with creating the first successful permanent photograph in 1827 using a camera obscura, meaning ‘dark room’. Joseph used a rudimentary lens made of pewter lightly coated with bitumen and exposed the plate for at least eight hours. Once the plate had been fully exposed, Joseph used vapor produced by heating iodine crystals to heighten the contract of the image. The photograph is thought to be of the landscape surrounding his Le Gras estate in France, but this is difficult to confirm due to the quality of the photograph. Eventually Joseph called his product the heliograph (“sun writing”).

After the Royal Society, the highest scientific authority of the time, rejected his invention, Joseph collaborated with Louis Daguerre. The pair worked to publish a detailed account of heliography; however, it did not come to fruition. Joseph and Louis also experimented with the early stages of the Daguerreotype, using silver-plated copper and iodine fumes. Unfortunately, Joseph died of a stroke four years into the partnership in 1833.

Louis Daguerre continued to work on the Daguerreotype after Joseph’s death. In 1835, it is said that Joseph placed an exposed plate in a cupboard that stored his chemicals. After several days, Joseph removed the plate to find that the image on the plate had developed. After further testing, Louis concluded that it was a chemical reaction between the copper silver-iodized plate and the mercury fumes from a broken thermometer that caused the image to develop. This breakthrough reduced the exposure time of a photograph from eight hours to only thirty minutes.

Louis discovered a method of fixing the image permanently in 1837. He used heated table salt solution to fix the chemical reaction. This finding was the cornerstone of Louis’s career and one of the most significant discoveries in the photography community. Once the process was complete, Louis attempted to sell his invention, but was unsuccessful.

Finally, in 1838, Louis teamed with Francois Arago, a French politician. Francois understood the importance of Joseph’s breakthrough and commissioned a report on the process spearheaded by Paul Delarouche. Paul was a one of the most respected painters at the time and was very influential in the promotion of the Daguerreotype. When the famous painter saw the Daguerreotype, he is often quoted to have said, “From today, painting is dead”. During a time when photography was highly underrated, Paul helped to make the art community more aware of the benefits of photography as a tool, rather than a replacement for painters.

Francois formally announced the invention at the Academy of Sciences in Paris, France in 1839. The same year, the French government purchased the Daguerreotype process. To explain the complex method, Daguerre held lectures open to the public; this helped to make the Daguerreotype process more accessible to the public and encourage budding photographers. In 1851, after immeasurable contributions to the field of photography, Louis died of a heart attack at the age of sixty-four.

In the midst of Louis Daguerre’s success, Sir Charles Wheatstone invented the process of stereoscopic photography in 1838. Stereoscopic photography created the illusion of depth in the image by combining two photography of the same subject taken simultaneously at approximately two and a half inches apart. Because the human eyes are two and a half inches apart, each eye sees images differently. By combining the images through a special viewer, the single image appears three-dimensional. Historians suggest that the idea behind stereoscopic photography originated in the early 1600s, however is was not until the 1800s that the process was presented to the Royal Society by Sir Charles.

Sir David Brewster used the principles of stereoscopic photography eleven years later, in 1849, to develop the binocular camera to produce the first stereoscopic images. Stereoscopic photography was also influenced byOliver Wendell Holmes how invented a later version of the stereoscope, called the Holmes Stereo Viewer. This was the most commonly used stereoscope from the 1880s to the later 1930s.

Henry Fox Talbot also contributed to the development of photography by following an early process developed in 1727 by Johann Heinrich Schulze. Johann experimented with a variety of different chemicals and he found that discovered that silver nitrate would react and change the color of a surface when exposed to light. Johann was not credited with his findings until after his death in 1744.

In 1840, Henry Fox Talbot utilized Johann’s findings to produce the calotype photographic process. The calotype process used paper coated with a silver nitrate solution. The paper was dried, producing silver chloride. The silver chloride made the paper light-sensitive, and when the photographer was ready to capture an image, the paper would be exposed to light for approximately 30 minutes. The print was then fixed in a salt solution. This created apositive image, a significant photographical breakthrough. Fox Talbot introduced his process in 1841and was very well received by the community. Fox Talbot’s contributions made it possible to copy and mass-produce photographs. In 1844, Fox Talbot published the first commercial book to include photographs, titled The Pencil of Nature.

In 1842, Sir John Frederick William Herschel also contributed to the growth of photography. He is credited with the invention of the cyanotype process. Earlier in his career, John discovered that sodium thiosulfate is a solvent of silver halides and will make photographs permanent, calling it hyposulphite of soda.

The cyanotype process used paper infused with iron salts. The paper was then exposed using contact printing. When developed in a water wash, the image would develop in a blue or cyan color. The process had a long exposure time, but because of the differences in the chemical makeup, it could be developed in a dimly lit room, instead of a dark room. The original process was later improved upon by William Willis.

Frederick Scott used calotype photography to capture the images of his subjects. He was not satisfied with the results of the calotype images, because they were poorly defined and required long exposure times. In 1851, he invented the photographic collodion process, which is the process of using wet plates made reactive with a coating containing potassium iodide dipped in silver nitrate, then exposed while the paper was still wet. One disadvantage to this process was the very short window in which the photographer had to develop the image, since the plate needed to be processed while wet. The wet plate collodion process was very popular until the 1880s.

Peter Fry, with the help of Frederick Scott Archer, made his mark on photography in the early 1850s with the ambrotype process. In the ambrotype process, a collodin glass negative was bleached; this would cause the darkened areas to change into white metallic silver. The difference between the wet plate collodion process and ambrotype is that ambrotypes used a positive image and wet plate collodion process used a negative image on the plate. This process needed a very short exposure time, was cost effective, and was thought to be easier to use than the Daguerreotype.

Andre Disdéri is credited with the next advancement in photography. In 1854, Andre patented an invention called the Cart-de-visite. This technique made it possible to print multiple images on a single large negative. A single negative could hold up to eight images, all of which could be developed at the same time. The process made photography quick and efficient; it played a large part in the replacement of the Daguerreotype.

Charles Bennett took a different approach to photography and in 1878 developed the dry-plate process. Bennett was influenced by Dr. Richard Leach Maddox use of Gelatin as a binding agent in the in his gelatin technique in 1871. The new dry process eliminated the need for portable darkrooms, decreased the required exposure time, and led the way for the development of new cameras.

George Eastman is one of the most famous names in photography. He is recognized for the introduction of flexible film in 1884. In 1884, Eastman also introduced flexible roll film; the same year Eastman created the Eastman Kodak Company. Flexible roll film used stripping film where paper was used to temporarily support the emulsion. Roll film could take 100 images before it needed to be developed. Four years later, Eastman invented the box camera, called the Brownie, bringing photography to a much larger population. To develop the photographs, the camera needed to be sent to the Eastman Kodak Company. Once processed, the camera would be reloaded with new film and mailed back to the consumer. The Eastman Kodak Company made photography more accessible to consumers, and their slogan “You press the button, we do the rest”, encouraged everyone to explore the world of photography.

The history of photography is an interesting adventure in the creativity of men of times past. The following links will expand upon what was discussed in the article above.

  • Bright Bytes: This is a website devoted to the camera obscura, which was the first piece of equipment that was created to capture images, which later would be photography.
  • Alternative Photography: This page provides information on how to take pictures with the dry plate process popular in the late 1800 and early 1900s.
  • A History of Photography: This site provides an overview of the history of photography from its beginning, through the 1920s. It includes a large list of significant people that played a part in photography, and information about their role in photography.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica: Information about Eadweard Muybridge, his accomplishments in photography, and additional resources are all on this page.
  • National Museum of American History: This is a series of pages that discusses Eadweard Muybridge and his study of human and animal movements via photography. The site includes graphics of Muybridge’s photos.
  • Pieces of Science: This is a page describing the history of photography with links to additional information about specific photography processes, information about the history of cameras, and the history of Kodak.
  • All-Art: A very detailed account of the history of photography, including numerous images and links to information on the most noted photographers of all time.
  • Ted’s Photographics: A timeline of the history of photography is provided, along with additional resources to the science of photography, cameras, and photographers.
  • Evolution of Photography: Although this is another timeline, this piece includes other important historical events so readers can tie in photography milestones with other major events, such as aeronautics, movies, and more.
  • Kodak: An article about how photography began, along with information on the formation of the Eastman Kodak Company.
  • The Daguerreian Society: This is a website that is devoted to daguerreotype photography and presents 19thand 20th century texts and original illustrations for reading and viewing.
  • EdinPhoto: This page discusses the calotype photography process that as used in the 1840s and 1850s.
  • Stamps: This is an 11 page document that talks about cartes de visite, or visiting cards, which Andre Adolphe Disderi invented.
  • Albumen Conservation: An article that describes the Collodio-Albumen, Tannin, and Dry Collodion photograph processed used in the 1800s.
  • Solid Light: A multipage article about stereoscopic photography, which became popular in the late 1800s and is the basis of current 3D technology.
  • Inventor of the Wet Collodion Process: This is an article about Federick Scott Archer and his invention of the Wet Collodion process of photography.
  • UK Web Archive: This is a large article discussing Sir John Herchel’s ‘Note on the Art of Photography, or the application of the Chemical Rays of Light to the purposes of Pictorial Representation’.
  • University of St. Andrews: A biography of Sir John Frederick William Herschel, including his adventures in photography.
  • University of Rochester: A page devoted to George Eastman and all his accomplishments over his lifetime.
  • Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: This is an article about William Henry Fox Talbot and the invention of photography.
  • Brewster Society: This page is an account of Sir David Brewster’s life, with pictures.