Photography is all around us, and we’re so lucky to carry a camera with us everywhere, in our pockets. But where did it all start? Here’s a short history of photography, and why you need to care about it.
I tried to put off starting the photography series for as much as I could, because I couldn’t figure out how to start it. Then, it hit me. From the beginning.
So, let’s get started!
The History of Photography
The idea of photography started when Greek and Chinese philosophers discovered two important principles:
- the one of “camera obscura” a.k.a. the dark room,
- and how a few substances modify if exposed to light.
The New Royal Palace at Prague Castle projected onto an attic wall by a hole in the roof.
17th & 18th Century
Isaac Newton – besides his other discoveries, was the first to see that white light is actually composed of many other colors.
Johann Heinrich Schulze, saw almost a century later, how some chalk, silver nitrate and nitric acid, mixed together and exposed to the sunlight get darker.
Thomas Wedgwood got even a step closer, making some camera images on durable surfaces using light and some light-sensitive chemical.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t make them permanent.
19th & 20th Century
A lot of interesting experiments happened in the 19th century, but I’ll try to stick to the important ones today.
Nicéphore Niépce ( try saying his name out loud 3 times faster 🙂 ) succeeded making negatives on paper coated with silver chloride, but he couldn’t stop them from darkening when exposed to light.
But the guy doesn’t give up, and finally succeeded creating the first permanent photograph, of an engraving of Pope Pius VII, that unfortunately gets destroyed.
He still didn’t give up, and later on, he makes, what is known today as the earliest surviving photograph of nature, a landscape, that required an exposure in the camera from 8 hours to several days.
Henry Fox Talbot is the one to succeed in making the two-step procedure, from negative to positive, that makes it possible to create copies of the photos as well.
He later introduces calotype paper negative process that reduces the exposure time.
Louis Daguerre is the one that presents the daguerreotype process, an interesting process that produces very detailed permanent photographs on silver-plated sheets of copper.
At first, it takes a few minutes of exposure to get the photo, but after some experimenting, he perfects it and is able to reduce the time to only a few seconds.
The result? Photography goes viral and his process is used worldwide!
Sarah Anne Bright shoots a series of photograms, and some of them still exist and now are known as the earliest surviving photos taken by a woman.
Even though all the photos from that time were only black and white, they were surprising and fantastic.
The first color photos were an experiment by Edmond Becquerel, but needed days of exposure and were extremely sensitive to light.
Thomas Sutton made the first durable color photographs, three black-and-white photographs taken through red, green, and blue color filters after a method proposed by the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell.
The first commonly used method of color photography was the Autochrome plate, a process commercially introduced in 1907 by brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière.
The 1900s were so important because other awesome things happened: Kodak was born and released the box camera, the first mass-marketed camera, named Brownie.
It was sold with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” and it went wildly popular!
From then on, everything goes wild.
In the following decades, the bulb flash is invented by General Electric, Leica photo cameras are born.
Chester Carlson gets a patent for electric photography (xerography), EG&G develops extreme depth underwater camera for the U.S. Navy.