Delving Deeper Into the History of Photography

Week 8

Question 1

Pick three events in the timeline from this week’s lesson History of Photography: An Introduction, and find photographs of the event on the Internet or in the library and write a paragraph explaining the event in more detail. Include your photographs in the description.

The oldest surviving camera photograph

View from the Window at Le Gras is a heliographic image and the oldest surviving camera photograph. It was created by French inventor Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827 at Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France, and shows parts of the buildings and surrounding countryside of his estate, Le Gras, as seen from a high window.
Niépce captured the scene with a camera obscura focused onto a pewter plate thinly coated with Bitumen of Judea, a naturally occurring asphalt. The bitumen hardened in the brightly lit areas, but in the dimly lit areas it remained soluble and could be washed away with a mixture of oil of lavender and white petroleum. A very long exposure in the camera was required, traditionally said to be eight hours, but now believed to be several days.

Introduction of Daguerreotype

In 1839Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre publicly introduces his daguerreotype process, which produces highly detailed permanent photographs on silver-plated sheets of copper. At first, it requires several minutes of exposure in the camera, but later improvements reduce the exposure time to a few seconds. The daguerreotype was the first commercially successful photographic process in the history of photography. A great number of daguerreotypes, especially portraits, were made in the mid-19th century; the technique was supplanted by the wet collodion process.

First photographically illustrated book to be commercially published

The Pencil of Nature (1844–46), written by William Henry Fox, was the first book with photographic illustrations. The book detailed Talbot’s development of the calotype process and included 24 calotype prints, each one pasted in by hand, illustrating some of the possible applications of the new technology. They include a variety of architectural studies, scenes, still-lifes, and closeups, as well as facsimiles of prints, sketches, and text. Due to the long exposure times involved, however, Talbot included only one portrait, The Ladder. Though he was no artist, Talbot also attempted to illustrate how photography could become a new form of art with images like The Open Door.

Question 2

Throughout this lesson you’ve learnt about the various techniques used and inventors that contributed to the art form that is Photography. Choose only one, do some additional research and in your own words write a report on why you think the chosen technique contributed to what we are able to do today through photography.

I grew up using a Kodak roll film camera. I remember the excitement of taking the roll to the shop to be developed and, a few days later, open the envelop and see all those pictures I took weeks (or months) prior. I was surprised to learn in this week’s lesson that this was already possible a century before, thanks to George Eastman’s invention of the roll film and the first Kodak camera.

George Eastman takes pictures with his Kodak camera

Before that, photography was only available for the few who could afford it. The cameras and gear at the time were large, heavy and cumbersome, and the wet place processes used back then required the photographer to do the development. This added to the time, expense, and skill level needed to make a photograph. It was 1888 when the American entrepreneur invented a game-changing dry and flexible photographic film that came in a roll. Besides, the film was designed for use in Eastman’s newly designed, user-friendly Kodak cameras. This innovative camera and film combination represents a turning point in photography, when the industry began shifting from expensive, time-consuming processes enjoyed by the few, to cheaper and easier snapshots that can be done by the many.

The Kodak camera was a box-style camera requiring no adjustments or prior photographic knowledge. To use the camera, the photographer simply armed the shutter by pulling up on the string (located on the front right of the camera), pointed the camera at the subject, and then pressed the shutter release. After taking a photograph, a key on top of the camera was used to wind the film onto the next frame. There is no viewfinder on the camera; instead, two V-shaped lines on the top of the camera leather are intended to aid aiming the camera at the subject. These steps were clearly explained in the camera’s instruction manual and were used to promote the ease of the camera along with the slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest”.

For $25 at the time (around $625 in today’s money), anyone could purchase the device, preloaded with enough film for 100 pictures. After finishing the roll, the camera could be sent to the Kodak factory for developing and printing at a cost of $10. The camera, loaded with a fresh roll of film, was returned with the negatives and mounted prints. Although the price was still high, the Kodak camera was accessible for far more people than before. Amateur photography grew significantly, which lead to an enormous demand for new rollable film.

Two rolls of film with a 1888 Kodak Camera, leather case and wooden box

It is difficult to imagine how photography would be today without the invention of the roll film or the Kodak camera at the end of the 19th century. Even though digital photography is the most popular choice nowadays, it is obvious the essential role film photography played in the development of modern photography. Besides that, and thanks to portable cameras such as the one created by George Eastman, we were able to document important events in history in a much easier and cheaper way than ever before.

– Question 1

– Question 2