The history of photography can be traced back to the efforts of Sir John Herschel. He was the first man to use the term in the year 1839. This was the same year when photographic processes and all possible information related to photography were made available to the common man. The term photography is mainly derived from Greek literature. It implies a synthesis of light and writing. The concept of photography gained popularity only after the synthesis of two popular processes of science. Interestingly, the concept of photography was not known to anyone till the time these two scientific processes obtained a concrete structure. Soon after 1830s these two scientific theories made a breakthrough in the world of photography.
The first process was optical. People had known about dark rooms for a long time. History has numerous examples which establish the fact that dark rooms often aided in artistic works. The best possible examples to support this statement can be drawn from the marvellous works of Leonardo Da Vinci. Similarly the next process was about the use of chemical. People knew about colours since time immemorial. Still not much of innovation was possible in this field. With time they learnt how to use these colours in different forms and for different purposes.
With the combination of these two theories, the first successful picture was made available to the masses. The man who enjoys the credit for this contribution – made in the year 1827 – was Niepce. He mainly made the use of materials that hardened as soon as they were exposed to light. Surprisingly, this hardening took a minimum of eight hours. In order to give newer dimension and life to his invention, Niepce decided to collaborate with Loius Danguerre. Unfortunately, this partnership lasted for a very short period of four years. Niepce died and the entire responsibility of conducting experiments was shouldered by Daguerre. He conducted large scale experiments in this field. His hard work and consistency attained success with the invention of the photographic plates. The invention of the photographic plates simply reduced the long hours of exposure to light. It took only half an hour to obtain the same results. Moreover when the image was dipped in salt solution, it became a permanent photograph. Many famous newspapers covered this invention. The French government was the first one to see the immense opportunities involved in this invention. They bought the rights in 1839. Still the government made the technique public and as an honour to the inventor named it Daguerreotype. People went gaga over this new technology.
Surprisingly some newspapers and thinkers were not really enthusiastic about the latest development. They were quick to see some sinister motive behind photography. Some newspapers went to the extent of terming this as a mere farce. Some equated it to blasphemy. They believed that human beings are created by God. This doesn’t allow anyone to create a picture of god or man. Even some artists saw it as a threat to their livelihood. They expressed their fear in a more intellectual manner. They proclaimed that with the advent of photography, painting will cease to exist.
There were few loopholes in the Daguerretype process. It turned out to be very expensive and the quality of the picture was not that great. Moreover a picture was a onetime affair. To some extent it gave a weird satisfaction to the owner. He used to be happy that he has a unique picture and it cannot be imitated by anyone. The only possible mode to copy these pictures was by installing two cameras next to each other. We cannot ignore the fact that the society will always want to copy these picture for some or the other use. In that case the Daguerreotype process proved to be insufficient.
Soon rivals or competitors entered the market. It was named Calotype. This was mainly invented by William Henry Fox Talbot. Talbot mainly tried to overcome the drawbacks of the Daguerretype process. He conducted large scale research in this field. His paper on the Art of Photogenic speaks about these drawbacks and the possible answers.
As already mentioned, society realized the importance of similar pictures. This challenge was met by the introduction of negative paper in 1835. This was discovered by Lacock Abbey. The quality of these negatives was not very good. Moreover the images that were produced by the Daguerreotype process were comparatively better.
The best possible means to establish the importance of the photography is the assessment of the growing popularity of the photography. Talbot made some essential contributions to the field of photography. The positive copy of the image often included the imperfections of the paper as well. A number of experiments were conducted in order to get rid of this imperfection. The breakthrough was obtained when Abel Niepce de Saint developed the technique of covering the glass plate with egg white. Before being put to use, the white of the egg was sensitised with some amount of potassium iodide. Soon the glass was also washed with acidic solution of silver nitrate. This process was found to be very time consuming and it gave best results in limited number of situations namely architecture and landscapes. It failed miserably in case of portrait pictures. These two main inventors or brain behind the technology were not aware of the fact that patenting this form of technology was not just possible. This was because the French govt has already established that this technology was available to the common masses. The year 1851, saw the birth of a new era in the field of photography. This was made possible by Fredrick Scott Archer. He introduced the Collodion process. The most distinguishing feature of this process was the tremendous reduction in the exposure time to two or three seconds. This in turn added new dimensions to the world of photography.
While comparing the different processes, it is important for the readers to compare the cost of both these processes. The price of the Collodion process was very less as compared to the price of the daguerreotypes. Andre Disderi introduced further improvements in the field of photography. He observed that the results will be better if the Collodion process involved the coating and exposing of the image when the plate is wet. Moreover he also contributed to the development of direct positive. Though this process gave the best results the major drawback was the use of large amount of equipments. Some photographers tried to preserve the exposed plates for some time. On the other hand this further reduced the quality of the picture. Hence the dry method came back in the world of photography. Still this particular hurdle forced the scientist to find answers to few more questions.
The discovery of gelatine was in fact a revolutionary step in the field of photography. It replaced the glass plates. The dry plate process caught momentum from this point of time. Another important reason behind the popularity of the dry plate is that their time and cost of production is comparatively negligible. Soon number of factory made plates flooded the market. In addition to this, it further eliminated the use of the wet plates and dark room. This made the entire process simpler and user friendly. It was discovered that thinner the celluloid behind the plates, the better will be the photo quality. The launch of box cameras further expanded the ambit of photography. It was also within the reach of large number of people. Interestingly, further study argued for the use of films that are sensitive to green light. Soon motion picture photography became very popular. Some very important topics which should be studied in depth while studying photography are lighting, social record, travel photography and architectural photography.