By Scott Michaels
For centuries images have been projected onto surfaces. The
camera obscura and the camera lucida were used by artists to
trace scenes as early as the 16th century. These early cameras
did not fix an image in time; they only projected what passed
through an opening in the wall of a darkened room onto a
surface. In effect, the entire room was turned into a large
pinhole camera. Indeed, the phrase camera obscura literally
means "darkened room," and it is after these darkened rooms
that all modern cameras have been named.
The first photograph is considered to be an image produced in
1826 by the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce on a polished
pewter plate covered with a petroleum derivative called
of Judea. It was produced with a camera, and required an eight
hour exposure in bright sunshine. However this process turned
out to be a dead end and Niépce began experimenting with
compounds based on a Johann Heinrich Schultz discovery in 1724
that a silver and chalk mixture darkens when exposed to light.
Niépce, in Chalon-sur-Saône, and the artist Louis Daguerre, in
Paris, refined the existing silver process in a partnership.
1833 Niépce died of a stroke, leaving his notes to Daguerre.
While he had no scientific background, Daguerre made two
pivotal contributions to the process.
He discovered that by exposing the silver first to iodine
vapour, before exposure to light, and then to mercury fumes
after the photograph was taken, a latent image could be formed
and made visible. By then bathing the plate in a salt bath the
image could be fixed.
In 1839 Daguerre announced that he had invented a process
silver on a copper plate called the Daguerreotype. A similar
process is still used today for Polaroids. The French
government bought the patent and immediately made it public
Across the English Channel, William Fox Talbot had earlier
discovered another means to fix a silver process image but had
kept it secret. After reading about Daguerre's invention
refined his process, so that it might be fast enough to take
photographs of people as Daguerre had done and by 1840 he had
invented the calotype process.
He coated paper sheets with silver chloride to create an
intermediate negative image. Unlike a daguerreotype a calotype
negative could be used to reproduce positive prints, like most
chemical films do today. Talbot patented this process which
greatly limited its adoption.
He spent the rest of his life in lawsuits defending the patent
until he gave up on photography altogether. But later this
process was refined by George Eastman and is today the basic
technology used by chemical film cameras. Hippolyte Bayard
developed a method of photography but delayed announcing it,
so was not recognized as its inventor.
In the darkroomIn 1851 Frederick Scott Archer invented the
collodion process. It was the process used by Lewis Carroll.
Slovene Janez Puhar invented the technical procedure for
photographs on glass in 1841. The invention was recognized on
July 17th 1852 in Paris by the Académie Nationale Agricole,
Manufacturière et Commerciale.
The Daguerreotype proved popular in responding to the demand
for portraiture emerging from the middle classes during the
Industrial Revolution. This demand, that could not be met in
volume and in cost by oil painting, may well have been the
for the development of photography.
However daguerreotypes, while beautiful, were fragile and
difficult to copy. A single photograph taken in a portrait
studio could cost US$1000 in 2006 dollars. Photographers also
encouraged chemists to refine the process of making many
cheaply, which eventually led them back to Talbot's process.
Ultimately, the modern photographic process came about from a
series of refinements and improvements in the first 20 years.
In 1884 George Eastman, of Rochester, New York, developed dry
gel on paper, or film, to replace the photographic plate so
that a photographer no longer needed to carry boxes of plates
and toxic chemicals around. In July of 1888 Eastman's Kodak
camera went on the market with the slogan "You press the
button, we do the rest". Now anyone could take a photograph
leave the complex parts of the process to others. Photography
became available for the mass-market in 1901 with the
introduction of Kodak Brownie.
Since then color film has become standard, as well as
focus and automatic exposure. Digital recording of images is
becoming increasingly common, as digital cameras allow instant
previews on LCD screens and the resolution of top of the range
models has exceeded high quality 35mm film while lower
resolution models have become affordable. For the enthusiast
photographer processing black and white film, little has
changed since the introduction of the 35mm film Leica camera
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