Photography and its History
by Jennifer French
Photography, as a concept, came into existence when the first camera obscura was created. In those days, the “camera” was a dark room in one’s home with a small opening to let in light rays to invert the outside world and have its viewers contemplate this new way of seeing the world, much like a painting would allow. Over the years, the camera obscura became smaller and portable, took on another form called the camera lucida, then eventually settled on a small box that replicated what a lot of wealthy individuals experienced in their home. Around 1825, a Frenchman named Joseph Nicpéhoré Niépce created the first ever photograph using a camera obscura. A heliograph, as he called it, was taken out the window of his estate using a metal plate coated with a tar based substance. This started the invention and interest in photography. In the years following, Niépce became acquainted with Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, another French artist, and Daguerre continued working on the development of photography after Niépce’s sudden death in 1833. This is how Daguerre developed the “daguerreotype” and photography was born. It has gone through many iterations through its years of development, but today, photography is accessible to everyone and used for a variety of subjects.
Types of Photos and their Development
Salt-printing was a process created by an Englishman named William Henry Fox Talbot. The alternate name is a “calotype”. This process came to popularity around the same time as Daguerreotypes in 1839, but didn’t become official until 1841. These prints were typically larger than a Daguerreotype and came from a negative, which was rather revolutionary. It was the first process to use the negative-positive process. However, these images, unlike Daguerreotypes, were known to fade heavily over time and become yellow.
The Cyanotype process, known for its distinct blue color, was a process invented in 1842 by John Hershel. This process was widely used by scientists who were able to create photographic copies of plants and other scientific materials. It was also used by photographers, but due to the popularity of black and white photography, this process was phased out around World War I. Though, this process was also the introduction to the blueprint we have today!
Albumen prints are an improved version of salt-prints. These prints, created by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evard, involved coating a piece of paper with egg whites (albumen) to make the thin paper glossy. Silver nitrate is then added as a thin layer on top. The combination of these elements creates light-sensitive salts that help produce sharper images and reduce fading. Albumen printing was popular from its creation to about the 1900s when newer processes like collodion prints and gelatin prints started gaining attention.
Carte de Visite
Carte de visites, created in 1854, were small cardboard cards with an albumen print pasted on the front. These cards gained popularity due to how small (typically 2.5 x 4 inches in size) and easily accessible they were. Carte de visites were often used as a kind of business card in the 19th century. Many people would go to photo studios, get their portraits taken then get these cards to hand out. They were also used as greeting cards when visiting family or friends. These cards also featured some prominent figures of the times such as Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln, and Charles Darwin.
Tintypes were introduced to the photography world in 1856, remaining popular until around 1900. This type of photography shared a feature with its earlier relatives in the fact that they did not require a negative. Tintypes could also be rather small (2.5 x 3.5 inches), similar to the carte de visite. In some cases, tintypes were pasted onto cardboard backings so they would not bend or curl over time. These images typically lacked contrast and rust could end up forming, but they were mainly used for studio settings. Tintypes were especially popular during the Civil War, documenting many of the soldiers before heading off to battle.
Similar to carte de visites, cabinet cards featured an albumen print pasted onto a larger cardboard piece to be given out. These cards were popular similarly to carte de visites, but cabinet cards ended up replacing the carte de visites during the 1880s. The main difference between these two kinds of cards was the addition of the photo studio taking the image on the back of the card. Cabinet cards were used mainly in photo studios at the time, showcasing the growing popularity of photographic portraits and the booming studio businesses. A majority of the time, the cabinet cards featured a sepia toned image, but later on the cards began to have exclusively black and white images.
Gelatin prints began appearing in 1882 when Sir William Abney of England invented the process. There are two kinds of gelatin prints, the first being Printing-Out-Paper prints and the second being Developing-Out-Paper prints. The main difference between these prints is one uses silver chloride while the other uses silver bromide. Gelatin POP was known to be warmer tonally than DOP and have a purple hue. It would usually fade yellow, and this style of print went out of style around 1910. Gelatin DOP is the paper used today. These prints can come in a variety of styles, but when gelatin DOP was first beginning to circulate, glossy was the main use. Over the years, several variations of paper started to be created, such as variable contrast (VC) and resin coated (RC). In 2005, Kodak announced the end of their black and white developing paper. Today, DOP is only handled and distributed by a handful of companies.
Jennifer French is a senior at Ramapo College who worked on this page and a scanning project as part of a cooperative education course in the Spring and Fall of 2020.