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history of the camera
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A Short History Of The Camera - Pioneers Of Photography Fade Out The Daguerreotype
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A Short History Of the Camera  -  Pioneers Of Photography Fade Out the Daguerreotype

In the early 19th century, the noted French photographer, Louis Daguerre, [1787-1851]was trying to come up with a process to permanently capture his subjects on to a durable, long-lasting medium. All of his attempts were unsuccessful as his photographic plates would retain the images but would keep developing until turning completely black.

This is, until he was able to perfect his daguerreotype process. once achieved, Daguerre takes his place in the history of the camera and paves the way for later pioneers of photography to initiate improvements in photography. This article is all about the earliest photographic processes, and the inventors who implemented them.

What Followed the Daguerreotype and Why Did It Ultimately Fail?

Developing the daguerreotype was not a pleasant process. It entails the use of mercury and extremely poisonous agents which caused serious health issues in those working with them. Despite the quality of prints this process yielded, the hazardous conditions and loss of human life stemming from the production of the daguerreotype, it began to fall into disfavor by those using the method. Albeit, for the time, there were no other methods available.

In the mid-1800s, photographic inventors were hard at work looking for new ways to produce prints without the expense, time, labor and health-risk associated with the daguerreotype process. This resulted in a cutting short of the Daguerreotype method which had an active life for about 20 years before being essentially replaced by the processes described below

The Wet Plate Calloidion Method - Finally, a ‘Clean’ Way to Turn Out Photographs

For a number of years, William Henry Fox Talbot, [1800-1877] was hard at work with his own method of photographic plate development. In 1841 Talbut finally realized success with his Calotype Method. The process entailed exposing paper treated with silver chloride, creating the earliest photographic paper. This new process achieved three important issues present in the popular method of the time:

  • The process was much cleaner and far less toxic to those doing the developing in the lab.
  • It was far less expensive and labor intensive as the Daguerreotype Method. The plates were made of glass instead of copper with mercury present.
  • The process involved the production of the negative - though not recognized as anything worthwhile to keep, negatives allow for replacement of lost or destroyed prints.

All of the subsequent processes, though not as labor-intensive as the Daguerreotype Method, were not easy and required great patience and skill.

Variations and Improvements to the Wet Plate Collodion Method

In 1854, James Ambro Cutting, [1814-1867] made some slight changes to the Collodion Method. Seeing no real need for the extra process of creating positive prints from negatives, apparently not considering the value of the negatives, Cutting modified the four year-old method invented by Talbot, eliminating the negative. He successfully came up with a method to have the plates develop positive instead of negative. This effectively offering a cheaper, little less quality print than previous processes.

These photographs were often hand-tinted, adding color to the plates.

Two years later, Professor Hamilton Smith, [1819-1903] developed a new twist, which he coined, the "Tintype Method." This interesting process uses the Wet Plate Collodion method, though the glass plate negatives produced were deliberately underexposed. This method required a black backing on which the plate was to be mounted.

Being underdeveloped, the image allowed for transparency enough that the the black backing, when the plate was mounted to it, essentially made the negative image look like a positive. This process was fairly inexpensive and development took only minutes. It also created a far more durable product, making the glass negatives less breakable.

The most profound development in photography came with the emergence of roll film. After the short daguerreotype era, the four major contributors enjoyed the run of the photographic world until 1885, when Eastman Kodak would come up with the first roll film ever.

To Recap the Above:

  • The daguerreotype was a highly-respected and worthwhile invention. Although Daguerre's process was also very toxic to health, one's wallet and was extremely labor-intensive, it is a hallmark in the history of the camera.
  • Later pioneers of photography became dissatisfied with Daguerre's process and began to come up with alternate processes.
  • Daguerreotypes would remain on the market for merely about 20 years before falling off.
  • The Wet Plate Process permitted much quicker exposure time and much safer, far less expensive than the potentially dangerous daguerreotype method. Four inventors indepently help create and perfect the basic photographic process.

Progress, by no means, ended here. Today photography, like everything else, has adapted digital photographic process, requiring no chemicals, film, negatives, or special equipment. All of the earlier processes, including roll film technology have taken a back seat to our latest generation of high-performance digital cameras today.


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