The History of Photography Part 2

Early in the history of photography, the daguerreotype, the patent of which was purchased and declared public domain by the French government, became extremely popular.

The newly growing middle class demanded easy portraiture, and photography in the form of the daguerreotype filled this need.


Photography Becomes Popular

Oil paintings were neither fast nor cheap enough. Unfortunately, daguerreotypes were hard to copy and extremely fragile. Therefore, variants of Talbot's process were soon adopted.

Tintypes, patented in the United States in 1856 by Hamilton Smith, were an extremely popular variant, because of their durability and the fact that they were inexpensive.

Books on the history of photography often overlook female photographers who came onto the scene around this time. Constance Talbot, wife of Fox Talbot, took, developed, and printed her own photos.

Emma Llewellyn assisted her husband by printing his photographs, and Jane Wigley was one of the first people to use a prism in her camera to reverse daguerreotypes (which originally printed backwards due to the process used).

Lady Clementina Hawarden operated in London, producing hundreds of images. Julia Margaret Cameron is also known for her pioneering work in photography.

Above: Beatrice Cenci (1866) by Julia Margaret Cameron

The next major technological jump in the history of photography was made by George Eastman in the 1880s. He created the film we now recognize as an important part of chemical cameras, reducing the need to carry chemicals and large boxes of plates.

The Kodak camera went on the market in 1888 and was intensely popular, especially after the 1901 introduction of the mass market Kodak Brownie. Since the development of 35mm film in 1925, little has changed in the field of film development.

Color Photography

Above: The first colour photograph (1861)

During the 19th century, colour photography was explored, but there was no way to make it permanent. There were several interesting experiments taken through filters which have only recently been turned into permanent images with the use of digital technology.

It wasn't until the 1880s that the ability to sensitize silver halide to coloured light was developed, and full sensitivity wasn't attained until the twentieth century.

Above: The first colour photograph (1872) to use the subtractive colour method, the basis of colour photography today. It was taken by Louis Ducos du Hauron and shows a view of Angouleme in France

A major leap forward in the history of photography came when practical colour plates were developed in 1907. The first was called Autochrome, and used a screen that filtered the light using dyed potato starch.

Once the plate was developed, colours could be restored. However, commercially viable colour photography wasn't available until the appearance of Kodachrome in the 1930s, with most colour film being introduced in the early 1940s. These films all used dye-coupled colours in a three layer system, and is still the way we make colour photographs using film.

Photography Goes Digital

Of course, chemical photography is a lot less widespread since the introduction and popularization of the digital camera. The first recorded attempt at one of these cameras occurred in 1975. The camera weighed eight lbs. and recorded only black and white images. Its resolution was extremely low by modern standards, it took more than 20 seconds to capture an image, and the image was stored on cassette tape.

Left - Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital

The handheld electronic camera came about in 1981, acting like a video camera that recorded a single frame. These cameras used video floppy discs and had about the same quality as a television picture. The photos where adopted primarily by news media, since the ability to transmit images over phone lines made it worth the high cost of the cameras.

True digital cameras did not appear until 1988, with the Fuji DS-1P, which had a 16 Mb internal memory card. A commercially available digital camera was not available until 1990, and could be connected to a computer for image download. Since then, the digital camera has developed at increasing speeds, and is the most common type of camera in most households. Many of us even have small cameras in our mobile phones, making it easy to snap photos.

The development of high quality printing and imaging technologies even allow us to produce prints from our home computers that rival the quality of a chemical print. However, digital photography has its limitations, one of which is that the detail it can capture is finite. Which means that film photography will probably always have a place in the history of photography.

Recommended Reading

› History of Photography Part 2


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