The History of Photography by Beaumont Newhall

Continued from previous post…

Eventually, Jacques Mande Daguerre produced a booklet of instructions for Daguerreotype that was translated all over the world. As the interest in photography grew throughout the world, many people were working on different ways to make it better and easier. However, Daguerre and Talbot’s processes reigned supreme for almost two decades.

Of all the countries, America adopted the Daguerreotype with the most enthusiasm and excelled in its practice. Soon Yankee ingenuity brought mechanical improvements. At the 1848 Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry in London, Americans won three out of five medals for the Daguerreotypes. By 1853 there were 86 galleries in New York City. The largest of those were Matthew Brady, Martin Lawrence land Jeremiah Gurney.

Despite the popularity of the Daguerreotype, it was doomed because it did not lend itself to easy duplication. It was fragile and had to be kept under glass or framed. And it was expensive.

For the most part, photography was only done on still objects because the exposures were long…up to ten minutes. By 1840, Peter Friedrich Voigtlander improved the lens for photography by making it 22 times brighter than it had been. In the 1850’s Frederick Scott Archer created a method of sensitizing glass plates with silver salts and within a decade it completely replaced both the Daguerreotype and the Calotype processes. Around that same time John Fredrick Goddard increased the light sensitivity of glass plates. Those two things made it possible to reduce exposures from four minutes to 25 seconds. Portrait studios opened world-wide.

As the popularity of photography grew stronger, the need for duplicates of images, large images, and images that did not fade became the next technical advancement in the field. Each of these advances created more interest in the field of photography, making each new advancement the stepping stone to the next. I can’t think of any other art form that is so heavily wrapped up in technical advancements…just when you think it can’t get any better, another item comes onto the market to improve the process!

Most photographs of the nineteenth century were printed by contact; they were the size of the negative. Solar Cameras, as enlargers were called, were rare, but by the 1850’s they were becoming popular. When the enlarging process became popular, it was noticed that the quality of the images was not as good as the smaller image and so ‘touch-up’ was necessary. Retouching had become controversial ever since Franz Hanfstaengl, a leading portrait photographer of German, showed at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris a retouched negative with a print made from it before and after retouching. mmmm….interesting how the controversy still goes on today…especially when using photoshop…how much retouching is too much? Is there such a thing as too much? Although most photographers found the practice “detestable and costly”, most sitters now demanded that the often harsh, direct camera records of their features be softened, facial blemishes removed, and the wrinkles of age smoothed away. Besides the retouching of the negative, the prints were often tinted or painted over with opaque pigments; each major studio usually employed several artists as “colorist”. This is the process I (Niki) use when I ‘hand paint’ my black and white photographs…a process used a long time before color photography was available…so I guess I’m a ‘colorist’!

As technology advanced, photographers began experimenting with the style and content of their photographs. Portrait photography was still the main economic stay for photographers, however people like Matthew Brady began using photography to record historic events…journalistic photography was born; Jackson took galss plates into the Rocky Mountains, Watkins & Muybridge photographed Yosemite…scenic photography was born. Photographers began experimenting with combing several negatives (images) on one sheet of paper; exposing enlarging paper to light before it was finished developing…photographing parts of things…all in an effort to join the abstract art movement; Muybridge was the first to stop action in 1869 with one of the first shutters for a camera…and, in general, photographers were having a lot of fun playing around with the process of photography and pushing its limits.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“After admiring the portraits caught in a burst of sunlight by Adam-Salomon, the sensitive sculptor who has given up painting, we no longer claim that photography is a trade – it is an art, it is more than an art, it is a solar phenomenon, where the artist collaborates with the sun.” Alphonse de Lamartine 1866

All photographic processes were sensitive to blue light. Because of that sensitivity early photographs had white skies. In 1873 Hermann Wilhelm Vogel (mmm…I wonder if he is a relative…that is my maiden name!), professor of photography at the Berlin Technical University, discovered that adding dyes to the photographic emulsion rendered it sensitive to the colors absorbed by the dye. By the turn of the century, photographers had negative material that could record all colors, plus they were also given a new creative tool. By using a colored filter over the lens they could accentuate or eliminate colors. In other words, they could, for the first time, choose to create deeper blacks by using a red filter and so on… For the first time, the expression of tonal range in the final image was up to the individual photographic artist. By 1891 large-scale production of film was taking place. Because the film was sensitive to red it was call panchromatic. Remember Panachrome film…all you old folks out there? We do! By 1920 panchromatic film was used world-wide.


Along with the large-scale production of film, came the improvements in light sensitivitiy of enlarging papers and large-scale production of that product followed. Coinciding with the universal adoption of these new sensitized materials came other technical improvements in lenses, shutters, and camera design. The increased sensitivity required that the exposures be sliced into precise fractions of a second. Shutters of the most ingenious kind were designed in a great variety. By the end of the 1800’s accurate exposures of 1/5000 of a second could be made.

The increased sensitivity required that the exposures be sliced into precise fractions of a second. Shutters of the most ingenious kind were designed in great variety. By the end of the 1800’s accurate exposures of 1/5000 of a second could be made.

Cameras were also reduced in bulk so they could be held in the hand. A bewildering array of hand-held camera appeared on the market. To choose a camera was such an ordeal that often the problem was solved by putting the names of all the different kinds of camera into a hat and picking out a name! The best remembered of these cameras is the Kodak, invented and manufactured by George Eastman, a dry plate maker in Rochester, New York. The camera was introduced in 1888 and was a 3 1/4 x 3 1/4 x 6 1/2 inches with a fixed-focus lens of 27mm focal length and an aperture of f/9, fitted with an ingenious cylindrical, or barrel, shutter. It was different than most of its competitors because it used a roll of film. Eastman’s most important contribution, however, was not the design of the camera, but providing a photo-finishing service for his customers. The pictures came to be called “snapshots”, a word used by hunters to describe shooting a firearm from the hip, without taking careful aim.

Eastman call the Kodak, “…a photographic notebook. Photography is thus brought within reach of every human being who desires to preserve a record of what he sees. Such a photographic notebook is an enduring record of many things seen only once in a lifetime and enables the fortunate possessor to go back by the light of his own fireside to scenes which would otherwise fade from memory and be lost.”

This opened up the field of photography to the average person making the interest in photography grow by leaps and bounds.

To be continued in another post….


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