The word photography, which is derived from the Greek words for light and writing, was first used by Sir John Herschel in 1839, the year the invention of the photographic process was made public. During the previous decades perhaps as many as ten individuals had tried to make a photograph. At least four were successful: Joseph Nicephore NIEPCE, Louis J. M. DAGUERRE, and Hippolyte BAYARD in France, and William Henry TALBOT in England. Each of them employed two scientific techniques that had been known for some time but had never before been successfully combined. The first of these techniques was optical.


Since the 16th century artists and scientists had made use of the fact that light passing through a small hole in one wall of a dark room, or CAMERA OBSCURA, projects an inverted image on the opposite wall. The hole was soon replaced with a lens, which made the image brighter and sharper. By the 18th century the room had been replaced by a portable box, which artists used as a sketching aid. The second technique was chemical. In 1727, Johann Heinrich Schulze had discovered that certain chemicals, especially silver halides, turn dark when exposed to light. The first attempt to use such chemicals to record the image of the camera obscura was made--unsuccessfully--by Thomas WEDGWOOD about 1800.


Daguerre's invention, which was bought by the French government and made public on Aug. 19, 1839, produced a one-of-a-kind picture on metal, the DAGUERREOTYPE. In contrast, Talbot's invention (1840), the CALOTYPE, produced a negative picture on paper; the lights of the image were recorded as darks, the darks as lights. A positive was made on another sheet of chemically sensitized paper, exposed to light through the negative. Because an infinite number of positives could be made from a single negative, Talbot's invention and refinements of it soon predominated. The photograph's capacity to repeat itself exactly and infinitely through the negative-to-positive process was one side of its radical character. The other, of course, was its privileged status as a picture created by nature alone, free from the inevitable distortions of handmade representations. The ever-increasing ease with which photography precisely recorded visual information and distributed it worldwide made it the most powerful tool of communication since the invention of the printing press. Early theories of photography stressed its mechanical nature. To some, this nature excluded the personal intervention that was the stamp of art; to others, photography's potential signaled the demise of painting.

Neither view prevailed. Painters continued to paint and photographers proliferated; at best, everyone agreed that the new invention was useful.



If photography baffled the theoretician, it welcomed the practitioner. Arcane and mysterious by today's standards, early processes were nevertheless easy enough to learn, and the medium spread rapidly throughout Europe and America. Photography appealed to a few professional scientists and artists, but most early photographers were undistinguished--artisans, handymen of all sorts, and, like several of the inventors, versatile amateurs. These individuals shared neither a common tradition nor a uniform intention. Only in the 20th century did an approximate consensus--or even a coherent argument--emerge about the past achievements and future goals of photography.


Because early photographers were largely unfettered by academic convention or demand for a uniform commercial product, the first two decades of photography were rich in pictorial experiment. Among the inventors, Talbot and Bayard were especially sensitive to the beauty of the new medium. Their loving records of often humble subjects announced photography's aptitude for the intimate, personal view.


Some of the best early photographers had been trained as artists; none were important artists, however, and many had a talent with the camera that they lacked with the brush. In the 1840s, D. O. Hill and Robert Adamson (see HILL, D. O., AND ADAMSON, ROBERT) made photographic portraits as studies for a large group portrait that Hill finished painting 20 years later. The painting is an awkward failure; the photographs, however, possess a grandeur that recalls--without copying--portraits by old masters. It was as if the training and talent of the painter could only be released in a practical struggle with the camera, the light of the day, and the mood of the sitter. The intuition of Hill and Adamson was shared by an impressive group of French photographers of the 1850s, among them Gustave LE GRAY, Charles MARVILLE, Charles NEGRE, E. D. Baldus (b. 1820), and Henri Le Secq (1818-82). Several of these men were, like Hill, painters, and they brought the conviction of art to their work and to their SOCIETE FRANCAISE DE PHOTOGRAPHIE. They frequently photographed important places and historic monuments, sometimes for the government, but this work was not separate from their private experiments. Their pictures preserve the adventurous spirit of early photography before it became both an art and a business. Although some of them were artists, the French primitives (as they are often called) gave up their professions, if not their ambition, when they took up the camera. In this sense, they were amateurs.


Even after the medium began to be dominated by professionals in the 1860s, many of the most inventive 19th-century photographers were amateurs. Perhaps the best of them was Julia Margaret CAMERON, who made intense portraits of her friends, many of whom were eminent Victorians. Cameron also composed photographic tableaux in which real people were transformed into characters from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King. In their own day, these pictures were admired as idiosyncratic productions; today they are appreciated as precocious examples of photography's responsiveness to fantasy and fiction.


The amateurs may be contrasted with photographers such as Oscar Gustav Rejlander and Henry Peach ROBINSON, who attempted to challenge painting on its own ground. In England in the 1850s they turned out labored but technically accomplished versions of successful genre paintings, pieced together from as many as a dozen different negatives. These hackneyed failures doubtless encouraged the enemies of photographic art. They may also have benefited the commercial photographers, who recognized (for the time being) that artistic aspiration had no place in their work and went on to make practical--and original--pictures.



After 1851, when Frederick Scott ARCHER's process substituted glass for Talbot's paper negative, the mass production of ALBUMEN PRINTS of extremely fine detail became possible. Until the 1880s this was the medium of the great commercial firms, which fed an enormous popular demand for portraits and for views of famous monuments or strange places. The majority of 19th-century photographs fall into these two categories.


Initially at least, portrait and view photographers adopted the pictorial conventions and commercial markets that had been established by painters and printmakers. The low cost of their product and the large scale of their operations, however, changed the meaning of these traditions. By the mid-1850s, when Andre Adolphe Eugene DISDERI popularized the small, cheap portrait, anyone could afford a picture of himself or herself.



First, the name. We owe the name "Photography" to Sir John Herschel , who first used the term in 1839, the year the photographic process became public. (*1) The word is derived from the Greek words for light and writing.


Before mentioning the stages that led to the development of photography, there is one amazing, quite uncanny prediction made by a man called de la Roche (1729- 1774) in a work called Giphantie. In this imaginary tale, it was possible to capture images from nature, on a canvas which had been coated with a sticky substance. This surface, so the tale goes, would not only provide a mirror image on the sticky canvas, but would remain on it. After it had been dried in the dark the image would remain permanent. The author would not have known how prophetic this tale would be, only a few decades after his death.


There are two distinct scientific processes that combine to make photography possible. It is somewhat surprising that photography was not invented earlier than the 1830s, because these processes had been known for quite some time. It was not until the two distinct scientific processes had been put together that photography came into being.


The first of these processes was optical. The Camera Obscura (dark room) had been in existence for at least four hundred years. There is a drawing, dated 1519, of a Camera Obscura by Leonardo da Vinci; about this same period its use as an aid to drawing was being advocated.


The second process was chemical. For hundreds of years before photography was invented, people had been aware, for example, that some colours are bleached in the sun, but they had made little distinction between heat, air and light.


In the sixteen hundreds Robert Boyle, a founder of the Royal Society, had reported that silver chloride turned dark under exposure, but he appeared to believe that it was caused by  exposure to the air, rather than to light.


Angelo Sala, in the early seventeenth century, noticed that powdered nitrate of silver is blackened by the sun.


In 1727 Johann Heinrich Schulze discovered that certain liquids change colour when exposed to light.


At the beginning of the nineteenth century Thomas Wedgwood was conducting experiments; he had successfully captured images, but his silhouettes could not survive, as there was no known method of making the image permanent.


The first successful picture was produced in June/July 1827 by Niepce, using material that hardened on exposure to light. This picture required an exposure of eight hours.


On 4 January 1829 Niepce agreed to go into partnership with Louis Daguerre. Niepce died only four years later, but Daguerre continued to experiment. Soon he had discovered a way of developing photographic plates, a process which greatly reduced the exposure time from eight hours down to half an hour. He also discovered that an image could be made permanent by immersing it in salt.


Following a report on this invention by Paul Delaroche, a leading scholar of the day, the French government bought the rights to it in July 1839. Details of the process were made public on 19 August 1839, and Daguerre named it the Daguerreotype.


The announcement that the Daguerreotype "requires no knowledge of drawing...." and that "anyone may succeed.... and perform as well as the author of the invention" was greeted with enormous interest, and "Daguerreomania" became a craze overnight. An interesting account of these days is given by a writer called Gaudin, who was present the day that the announcement was made.


However, not all people welcomed this exciting invention; some pundits viewed in quite sinister terms. A newspaper report in the Leipzig City Advertiser stated:


"The wish to capture evanescent reflections is not only impossible... but the mere desire alone, the will to do so, is blasphemy. God created man in His own image, and no man- made machine may fix the image of God. Is it possible that God should have abandoned His eternal principles, and allowed a Frenchman... to give to the world an invention of the Devil?"


At that time some artists saw in photography a threat to their livelihood (see Artists and Photography), and some even prophesied that painting would cease to exist.


The Daguerreotype process, though good, was expensive, and each picture was a once-only affair. That, too many, would not have been regarded as a disadvantage; it meant that the owner of the portrait could be certain that he had a piece of art that could not be duplicated. If however two copies were required, the only way of coping with this was to use two cameras side by side. There was, therefore, a growing need for a means of copying pictures which daguerreotypes could never satisfy.


Different, and in a sense a rival to the Daguerreotype, was the Calotype invented by William Henry Fox Talbot, which was to provide the answer to that problem. His paper to the Royal Society of London, dated 31 January 1839, actually precedes the paper by Daguerre; it was entitled "Some account of the Art of Photogenic drawing, or the process by which natural objects may be made to delineate themselves without the aid of the artist's pencil." He wrote:


"How charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably and remain fixed on the paper!"


The earliest paper negative we know of was produced in August 1835; it depicts the now famous window at Lacock Abbey, his home. The negative is small (1" square), and poor in quality compared with the striking images produced by the Daguerreotype process. By 1840, however, Talbot had made some significant improvements, and by 1844 he was able to bring out a photographically illustrated book entitled "The Pencil of nature." (See note HERE).


Compared with Daguerreotypes the quality of the early Calotypes was somewhat inferior. (See comments on Claudet). However, the great advantage of Talbot's method was that an unlimited number of positive prints could be made (see also Brewster). In fact, today's photography is based on the same principle, whereas by comparison the Daguerreotype, for all its quality, was a blind alley.


The mushrooming of photographic establishments reflects photography's growing popularity; from a mere handful in the mid 1840s the number had grown to 66 in 1855, and to 147 two years later. In London, a favorite venue was Regent Street where, in the peak in the mid 'sixties there were no less than forty-two photographic establishments! In America the growth was just as dramatic: in 1850 there were 77 photographic galleries in New York alone. The demand for photographs was such that Charles Baudelaire (1826-1867), a well known poet of the period and a critic of the medium, commented:


"our squalid society has rushed, Narcissus to a man, to gloat at its trivial image on a scrap of metal."


Talbot's photography was on paper, and inevitably the imperfections of the paper were printed alongside with the image, when a positive was made. Several experimented with glass as a basis for negatives, but the problem was to make the silver solution stick to the shiny surface of the glass. In 1848 a cousin of Nicephore Niepce, Abel Niepce de Saint-Victor, perfected a process of coating a glass plate with white of egg sensitised with potassium iodide, and washed with an acid solution of silver nitrate. This new ( albumen ) process made for very fine detail  and much higher quality. However, it was very slow, hence the fact that photographs produced on this substance were architecture and landscapes; portraiture was simply not possible.


Progress in this new art was slow in England, compared with other countries. Both Daguerre and Fox Talbot were partly responsible, the former for having rather slyly placed a patent on his invention whilst the French government had made it freely available to the world, the latter for his law-suits in connection with his patents.


In 1851 a new era in photography was introduced by Frederick Scott Archer , who introduced the Collodion process. This process was much faster than conventional methods, reducing exposure times to two or three seconds, thus opening up new horizons in photography.


Prices for daguerreotypes varied, but in general would cost about a guinea (£1.05), which would be the weekly wage for many workers. The collodion process, however, was much cheaper; prints could be made for as little as one shilling (5p).


A further impetus was given to photography for the masses by the introduction of carte-de-visite photographs by Andre Disderi . This developed into a mania, though it was relatively short-lived.


The collodion process required that the coating, exposure and development of the image should be done whilst the plate was still wet. Another process developed by Archer was named the Ambrotype , which was a direct positive.


The wet collodion process, though in its time a great step forward, required a considerable amount of equipment on location. There were various attempts to preserve exposed plates in wet collodion, for development at a more convenient time and place, but these preservatives lessened the sensitivity of the material. It was clear, then, that a dry method was required.


The next major step forward came in 1871, when Dr. Richard Maddox discovered a way of using Gelatin (which had been discovered only a few years before) instead of glass as a basis for the photographic plate. This led to the development of the dry plate process. Dry plates could be developed much more quickly than with any previous technique. Initially it was very insensitive compared with existing processes, but it was refined to the extent that the idea of factory-made photographic material was now becoming possible.


The introduction of the dry-plate process marked a turning point. No longer did one need the cumbersome wet-plates, no longer was a darkroom tent needed. One was very near the day that pictures could be taken without the photographer needing any specialized knowledge.


Celluloid had been invented in the early eighteen-sixties, and John Carbutt persuaded a manufacturer to produce very thin celluloid as a backing for sensitive material. George Eastman is particularly remembered for introducing flexible film in 1884. Four years later he introduced the box camera, and photography could now reach a much greater number of people.


Other names of significance include Herman Vogel , who developed a means whereby film could become sensitive to green light, and Eadweard Muybridge who paved the way for motion picture photography.


Popular in the Victorian times was stereoscopic photography , which reproduced images in three dimensions. It is a process whose popularity waxed and waned - as it does now - reaching its heights in the mid-Victorian era.


Other topics:


              Architectural photography

              The Linked Ring


              Photo Secessionist movement

              Social record

              Travel photography

              Unusual ventures

              War photography




       (*1) Well, actually, not quite. Whilst Herschel used the term first in a lecture before the Royal Society on March 14, 1839, he was in fact beaten to the post by an anonymous writer with the initials "J.M." a few weeks earlier, on February 25. Eventually a scholar was able to determine that this anonymous writer was in fact Johann von Maedler (1794-1874), who was an astronomer in Berlin. However, Hershel was undoubtedly the person who, with his fame and position, made the word "photography" known to the world.


The Camera Obscura (Latin for Dark room) was a dark box or room with a hole in one end. If the hole was small enough, an inverted image would be seen on the opposite wall. Such a principle was known by thinkers as early as Aristotle (c. 300 BC). It is said that Roger Bacon invented the camera obscura just before the year 1300, but this has never been accepted by scholars; more plausible is the claim that he used one to observe solar eclipses. In fact, the Arabian scholar Hassan ibn Hassan (also known as Ibn al Haitam), in the 10th century, described what can be called a camera obscura in his writings; manuscripts of his observations are to be found in the India Office Library in London.


In his essay "On the form of the Eclipse" he wrote:


"The image of the sun at the time of the eclipse, unless it is total, demonstrates that when its light passes through a narrow, round hole and is cast on a plane opposite to the hole it takes on the form of a moon-sickle.


The image of the sun shows this peculiarity only when the hole is very small. When the hole is enlarged, the picture changes... ."


The earliest record of the uses of a camera obscura can be found in the writings of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). At about the same period Daniel Barbaro, a Venetian, recommended the camera as an aid to drawing and perspective. He wrote:


"Close all shutters and doors until no light enters the camera except through the lens, and opposite hold a piece of paper, which you move forward and backward until the scene appears in the sharpest detail. There on the paper you will see the whole view as it really is, with its distances, its colours and shadows and motion, the clouds, the water twinkling, the birds flying. By holding the paper steady you can trace the whole perspective with a pen, shade it and delicately colour it from nature."


In the mid sixteenth century Giovanni Battista della Porta (1538-1615) published what is believed to be the first account of the possibilities as an aid to drawing. It is said that he made a huge "camera" in which he seated his guests, having arranged for a group of actors to perform outside so that the visitors could observe the images on the wall. The story goes, however, that the sight of up-side down performing images was too much for the visitors; they panicked and fled, and Battista was later brought to court on a charge of sorcery!


Though Battista's account is wrapped up in a study of the occult, it is likely that from that time onwards many artists will have used a camera obscura to aid them in drawing, though either because of the association with the occult, or because they felt that in some way their artistry was lessened, few would admit to using one. Several are said to have used them; these include Giovanni Canale - better known as Canaletto (1697- 1768), Vermeer (1632-1675), Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), and Paul Sandby (1725-1809), a founding member of the Royal Academy.


Though some, including Joshua Reynolds, warned against the indiscriminate use of the camera obscura, others, notably Algarotti, a writer on art and science and a highly influential man amongst artists, strongly advocated its use in his Essays on Painting (1764):


"the best modern painters among the Italians have availed themselves of this contrivance; nor is it possible that they should have otherwise represented things so much to the life... Let the young painter, therefore, begin as early as possible to study these divine pictures... Painters should make the same use of the Camera Obscura, which Naturalists and Astronomers make of the microscope and telescope; for all these instruments equally contribute to make known, and represent Nature."


About the same time, the lens was being developed. Once again Roger Bacon's name is associated with this; some have claimed that it was he who invented spectacles. Gerolomo Cardano (1501- 1576), an Italian mathematician, introduced a glass disc in place of a pinhole in his camera, and Barbaro also used a convex lens. Why the name lens? It is claimed that because Italian lenses were by-convex, they seemed to resemble the brown lentils they used to make soup - so the lens came from the Latin for lentil.


The first cameras were enormous. Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680) in a book written in 1646, described one which consisted of an outer shell with lenses in the centre of each wall, and an inner shell containing transparent paper for drawing; the artist needed to enter by a trapdoor.


Other versions also appeared. Sedan chairs were converted, and tent-type cameras were also in use - even up the beginning of the nineteen hundreds. Then smaller, portable ones were made. Thus the camera obscura, as it came to be known, became a popular aid to sketching.


Another aid to drawing, but which worked in a different way, was the Camera Lucida, designed in 1807.


To give some idea of costs in the earliest days of photography, it is known that in 1839 Fox Talbot bought several instruments including a camera obscura for seven pounds fifteen shillings (£7.75). At that time the typical servant's wage would have averaged between ten and twenty pounds per year.


Camera obscuras still have a fascination for many, and there are several in this country.



AMBROTYPE process, The

If a very thin under-exposed negative is placed in front of a dark background, the image appears like a positive. This is because the silver reflects some light whilst the areas with no silver at all will appear black. This is the principle behind the Ambrotype process, the pictures being more correctly known as Collodion positives.


Ambrotypes were made from the 1850s and up to the late eighties, the process having been invented by Frederick Scott Archer in collaboration with Peter Fry, a colleague. Ambrotypes were direct positives, made by under-exposing collodion on glass negative, bleaching it, and then placing a black background - usually black velvet, occasionally varnish - behind it. Though Ambrotypes slightly resemble Daguerreotypes, the method of production was very different, and Ambrotypes were much cheaper.


The Ambrotype process was yet another method of reducing the cost of photography. It became popular for a number of reasons:



Ambrotypes became very popular, particularly in America. The process is also called "Melainotype" in the European continent. Another variant of this was the Tintype process.


The ALBUMEN process

In the late 1840s albumen came to be used in the preparation of both negatives and printing paper, in order to increase the definition.


The first development was at the negative stage. Talbot's negatives were on paper, and inevitably, when a positive was made, the imperfections of the paper were printed along with the image. The answer would be to use glass negatives rather than paper, but the chemicals would not adhere to the glass without a suitable binder. Though several substances had been thought of - even the slime left by snails - nothing proved reliable.


In 1848 a cousin of Nicephore Niepce, Abel Niepce, perfected a process which consisted of coating a glass plate with salted white of egg containing some potassium iodide. The plate was then left to dry, after which it was sensitised with an acid solution of silver nitrate. After exposure it was then developed in gallic acid.


This new process made for very fine detail and much higher quality. However, it was very slow, with exposure times ranging between five and fifteen minutes, so it was used for architectural or still life work, not for portraiture.


The development of albumen printing paper, two years later, met with much greater success; this was introduced in France by Blanquart-Evrard, brought to this country by John Mayall and made known in England by Hugh Welch Diamond. (One source, however, suggests that this process was first described at the Photographic Society by Henry Pollock.) Until then, salted paper, with its limitations of definition, had been used. An article by Shadbolt in The Journal of the Photographic Society (1855) states the problem:


"The more the picture is kept upon the surface of the paper, the more brilliant is the effect, and the more perfectly is the detail, especially that of the half tones brought out, and that anything like soaking the solutions into the paper produces a flat and unsatisfying effect."


Here the chemicals would be on the paper rather than in it, as in the case of the salted-paper process. It was a glossy printing paper which produced a very smooth surface and therefore permitted reproduction in much greater detail.


However, initially the albumen process was not seen as the ideal answer. Shadbolt, for example, continued:


"the offensive and vulgar glare which it possesses sometimes is more detrimental to pictorial effect than is counter- balanced by other advantages, and I see no reason why all the delicacy of albumenized proofs should not be retained by adopting other means to this end, and yet be free from so unpleasant a defect as the glare alluded to..."


whilst Sutton wrote:


"As a matter of taste, I extremely dislike prints on albumenized paper, and they consequently never find a place in my portfolio...",


and evidently had little time for


"those who prefer that peculiar kind of vigour and brilliancy which is exhibited by a piece of black sticking plaster, or a well-polished Wellington boot..."


To reduce the glaze, some diluted the albumen. Nevertheless the process began to catch on, and by the sixties it was in general use, and continued to be so until the turn of the century. Its success may be judged by the fact that one of the photographic journals printed recipes for using the egg yolks left over after the whites had been used for photographic purposes. It was said that one supplier of albumen paper alone was using sixty thousands eggs a day!


Albumen printing paper continued to be in general use until the turn of the century, when gelatine paper began to replace it.


COLLODION process, The

This process was introduced in 1851 and marks a watershed in photography.


Up till then the two processes in use were the daguerreotype and the calotype. Daguerreotypes were better than calotypes in terms of detail and quality, but could not be reproduced; calotypes were reproducible, but suffered from the fact that any print would also show the imperfections of the paper.


The search began, then, for a process which would combine the best of both processes - the ability to reproduce fine detail and the capacity to make multiple prints. The ideal would have been to coat light sensitive material on to glass, but the chemicals would not adhere without a suitable binder which obviously had to be clear. At first, Albumen (the white of an egg) was used. Then in 1851 Frederick Scott Archer came across collodion.


Collodion was a viscous liquid - guncotton dissolved in ether and alcohol - which had only been invented in 1846, but which quickly found a use during the Crimean war; when it dried it formed a very thin clear film, which was ideal for dressing and protecting wounds. Collodion was just the answer as far as photography was concerned, for it would provide the binding which was so badly needed. Lewis

Carroll, himself a photographer who used collodion, described the process in a poem he called "Hiawatha's Photography."


       "First a piece of glass he coated

       With Collodion, and plunged it

       In a bath of Lunar Caustic

       Carefully dissolved in water;

       There he left it certain minutes.

       Secondly my Hiawatha

       Made with cunning hand a mixture

       Of the acid Pyro-gallic,

       And the Glacial Acetic,

       And of alcohol and water:

       This developed all the picture.

       Finally he fixed each picture

       With a saturate solution

       Of a certain salt of Soda...."


This "soda" was, of course, hypo. Sometimes potassium cyanide was used, the advantage of this being that the solutions could be washed out by rinsing under a tap for a minute or so, whereas hypo would need much more washing time.


The collodion process had several advantages.



There was however one main disadvantage: the process was by no means an easy one. First the collodion had to be spread carefully over the entire plate. The plate then had to be sensitised, exposed and developed whilst the plate was still wet; the sensitivity dropped once the collodion had dried. It is often known as the wet plate collodion process for this reason.


The process was labour-intensive enough in a studio's darkroom, but quite a feat if one wanted to do some photography on location. Some took complete darkroom tents, Fenton took a caravan, and it is no mere coincidence that many photographs taken in this period happened to be near rivers or streams! Moreover, at this time there were no enlargements, so if one wanted large prints, there was no alternative but to carry very large cameras. (It is such limitations of the process that make the work of people like the Bisson brothers, Fenton, and others so remarkable).


One might also mention the safety factor. The collodion mixture was not only inflammable but highly explosive. It is reported that several photographers demolished their darkrooms and homes, some even losing their lives, as a result of careless handling of the photographic chemicals.


Despite the advantages the collodion process offered, there were still many who stoutly defended the calotype. A writer in the Journal of the Photographic Society (December 1856) wrote:


"for subjects where texture, gradations of tint and distance are required, there is nothing.... to compare with a good picture from calotype or waxed paper negative."


Moreover, the calotype process was less of an ordeal, especially for travel photographers; paper negatives could be prepared at home, exposed on location, and then developed upon one's return. Hence Diamond used the calotype process for some of his travel photographs, though he used collodion for portraiture and for his medical photography.


Nevertheless the invention of this process turned out to be a watershed as far as photography was concerned:



The use of collodion caught on very quickly indeed, and within a few years few people used either the Daguerreotype or Calotype process.


The records of the Photographic Society give an interesting account of the efforts to ensure even sensitivity of the Collodion plates. As mentioned above, these plates had to be dipped into a nitrate of silver bath and exposed whilst still wet. Exposure would have to be almost immediate as otherwise the top of the plate would lose its moisture and the sensitivity would become uneven. All sorts of liquids were tried, including honey, beer, and even raspberry syrup!


A variation on this was the Oxymel process.


The TINTYPE process

First, see Ambrotype. The tintype, also known as a ferrotype, is a variation on this, but produced on metallic sheet (not, actually, tin) instead of glass. The plate was coated with collodion and sensitized

just before use, as in the wet plate process. It was introduced by Adolphe Alexandre Martin in 1853**, and became instantly popular, particularly in the United States, though it was also widely used by street photographers in Great Britain.


That this process appealed to street photographers was not surprising:



The most common size was about the same as the carte-de-visite, 2 1/4'' x 3 1/2'', but both larger and smaller ferrotypes were made. The smallest were "Little Gem" tintypes, about the size of a postage-stamp, made simultaneously on a single plate in a camera with 12 or 16 lenses.


Compared with other processes the tintype tones seem uninteresting. They were often made by unskilled photographers, and their quality was very variable. They do have some significance, however, in that they made photography available to working classes, not just to the more well-to-do. Whereas up till then the taking of a portrait had been more of a special "event" from the introduction of tintypes, we see more relaxed, spontaneous poses.

Some tintypes that remain are somewhat poignant. The one shown here is of a child who has died. If this seems bizarre, it would seem to have been quite a practice in the last century.


In fact, the original name for Tintype was "Melainotype." It is perhaps worth adding that there was no tin in them. Some have suggested that the name after the tin shears used to separate the images from the whole plate, others that it was just a way of saying "cheap metal" (i.e. non-silver).


The print would come out laterally reversed (as one sees oneself in a mirror); either people did not worry about this, or just possibly they did not discover it until after the photographer had disappeared!***


Being quite rugged, tintypes could be sent by post, and many astute tintypists did quite a trade in America during the Civil War, visiting the encampments. Later, some even had their shop on river-boats.



*Tintypes eventually were superseded by gelatin emulsion dry plates in the 1880s, though street photographers in various parts of the world continued with this process until the 1950s; the writer well remembers being photographed by one of these street photographers in Argentina, when he was a boy. Eventually, of course, 35mm and Polaroid photography were to replace these entirely.


** Professor Hamilton L. Smith was the first to make ferrotypes in the Unites States, and he and Victor Moreau Griswold introduced the process to the photographic industry.


*** Sometimes failure to recognize this has led to false assumptions. One reader kindly drew my attention to an article in the Guardian, regarding Billy the Kid, whose picture is shown on the right. He was not, as has been assumed by many, left-handed.


DRY-PLATE process, The

This was invented by Charles Bennett in 1878, coming soon after Dr. Richard Leach Maddox had suggested the use of Gelatin as a binder. This new process was revolutionary:



The more popular name for the wet plate process is Collodion, invented by Scott Archer. It is called such because the entire process of coating the plate, exposing it, and processing had to be completed before the collodion dried.


GELATIN, The introduction of

The development of the Collodion process marked a watershed in the development of photography. However, this wet-plate process had limitations, one being that it was necessary to keep the collodion moist.


For a number of years several attempts were made to discover ways of keeping the collodion moist for long periods. The materials tried included unusual ones like licorice, beer and raspberry syrup! Some success was achieved by using a mixture of bromide in collodion. The ideal binder would be one which enabled the plates to be used only when dry. It was not until 1871 that the next breakthrough was achieved by Dr Richard Leach Maddox, when he began using gelatin.


In fact, as far back as 1850 Robert Bingham had suggested the use of gelatin, but this idea had not been taken up at the time, presumably because of the announcement of the collodion process the following year.


Gelatin is a protein obtained from animals, which is transparent and odorless, and used in a number of food processes. The first account of its use in photography is in the British Journal of Photography for 8 September 1871, when Maddox suggested that the sensitizing chemicals could be coated on to a glass plate in a gelatin rather than a collodion emulsion.


Maddox's process, though revolutionary, was far slower than collodion. Several manufacturers experimented with it, the most successful being Charles Bennett, who in 1878 announced a new gelatin dry plate process. This was a major breakthrough, particularly since Bennett's process also considerably enhanced the sensitivity of the emulsion, reducing the exposure time to one tenth of that required for the collodion one.


This dry process



By the end of that decade the dry plate had superseded the Wet Plate entirely, and within a further ten years the emulsion could be coated on celluloid roll film.



ARCHER, Frederick Scott

b. 1813; d. 2 May 1857

Scott Archer's development of the wet collodion process changed the face of photography, enabling the making of finely detailed negatives.


Until then the two processes in existence were the daguerreotype and the calotype, both of which had limitations:



Something that combined the best of both processes was needed.


In March 1851 the "Chemist" printed an article entitled "On the use of Collodion in photography." Three years earlier Archer had come across this substance, which produced a transparent waterproof film, and which was being used to dress wounds. Archer's procedure was to mix collodion with potassium iodide, and then immerse this in a solution of silver nitrate. Both the exposure and the development had to be made in the camera whilst the plate was still wet.


This new process was an important one, not only for its clarity (using glass as a base) but also because it reduced the exposure times to a matter of seconds. Writing to Llewelyn on 31 May 1852 Fox Talbot said:


"Pray accept the enclosed specimen which was taken the other day in 3 seconds by Henneman or his assistant. He sometimes succeeds in one second."


Up till this time more transient events, such as rippling water, smoke, blown clouds, would have failed to register. Llwelyn tried to tackle photographs of waves, and actually succeeded. In a review of an

exhibition in London in 1854, and enthusiastic review wrote:


"Mr. Llwelyn...has sent four instantaneous pictures, in one of which the seashore has been taken, with carts and persons moving upon it. Waves are caught with foam on them....and the faintest (sic) trace of indecision in some walking figures shows that could scarcely have completed one footstep before the picture was complete. Another picture represents the sea beating itself into foam against a rock, with flying clouds. Another represents a steamboat at a pier, and has fixed instantaneously the floating smoke and steam."


Within a very short period the collodion process had replaced the calotype.


Together with Peter Fry, Archer also devised the Ambrotype process.


Unlike Fox Talbot, who was involved in a number of law-suits in order to protect his patent, Scott Archer did not seek to make money out of his discovery. Talbot even went as far as to claim that the Collodion process was covered by his Calotype patent; in December 1854 he began a lawsuit against Martin Laroche on this very issue, but he lost. Consequently the Collodion process became free to the world. In the wake of this court ruling Talbot did not renew his calotype patent, given that the collodion process, which was better in any case, was free.


Had Scott Archer patented his Wet Collodion process, he could undoubtedly have made a fortune, and though he lived just a few years to see others making a huge fortune from it, he died in penury, never receiving during his lifetime the appreciation due to someone who had made such an advance in photography. After his death, a fund for the benefit of his widow and children was opened, raising £747, and a small civil list pension was obtained for the three children who by this time had been left orphans.


The RPS has some thirty or so albumen pictures, including an album of views of Kenilworth Castle.



b. 1 Nov, 1879; d. 16 Jan, 1936


Born in Germany, Barnack was the designer of the first 35mm. miniature camera available commercially. He joined the Leitz optical company in 1911, and had actually developed a prototype of the Leica two years later, but development was seriously arrested by the first World War and its aftermath. The 35mm film was used (and is still largely used) for movie film, and the standard 24 x 36mm format was created by simply doubling the size of the negative and holding it sideways relative to movie cameras.


The development of the Leica camera was that it enabled pictorial journalism to develop. With wide aperture lenses, it permitted one to take exposures indoors by available light, and its size enabled one to take candid portraits. One of those who took advantage of this versatility was Erich Salomon, famous for his candid pictures of celebrities, often taken in situations where cameras were not permitted.


Barnack was also partly responsible for the development of the Leitz Elmar lens.



DAGUERRE, Louis Jacques Mande

b. 18 November 1787; d. 10 July 1851

Daguerre (pronounced Dagair) was perhaps the most famous of several people who invented photography.


He began work as an apprentice architect, and at the age of sixteen was an assistant stage designer in a Paris theatre, his elaborate stage designs winning him considerable acclaim, He developed an impressive illusions theatre, which he termed Diorama; it was a picture show with changing light effects and huge paintings measuring 22 by 14 meters, of famous places. This became the rage in the early twenties.


He regularly used a camera obscura as an aid to painting in perspective, and this had led him to seek to freeze the image. In 1826 he learned of the work of Nicephore Niepce, and on 4 January 1829 signed up a partnership with him.


The partnership was a short one, Niepce dying in 1833, but Daguerre continued to experiment. He made an important discovery by accident. In 1835, so the story goes, he put an exposed plate in his chemical cupboard, and some days later found, to his surprise, that the latent image had developed. Daguerre eventually concluded that this was due to the presence of mercury vapor from a broken thermometer. This important discovery that a latent image could be developed made it possible to reduce the exposure time from some eight hours to thirty minutes.

Though he now knew how to produce an image, it was not until 1837 that he was able to fix them. This new process he called a Daguerreotype.


Daguerre advertised his process and sought sponsorship, but few seemed interested. He then turned to Francois Arago, a politician, who immediately saw the implications of this process, took his case up, and the French government commissioned a report on the process, to be chaired by Paul Delaroche. On 7 January 1839 an announcement was made of the discovery, but details were not divulged until 19 August when the process was announced publicly, the French government having bought the rights to the process from him, and given it free to the world. However, this process had also been patented in England and Wales on 14 August - only five days previously. As Lady Eastlake pointed out:



" some chicanery a patent for the daguerreotype was actually taken out in England, which for a time rendered this the only country which did not profit by the liberality of the French government. The early history of photography is not so generous in character as that of its maturity."


From the day the announcement was made of this new discovery, the process came to be used widely. The claim was made that the daguerreotype "requires no knowledge of drawing...." and that "anyone may succeed... and perform as well as the author of the invention."


The Literary Gazette for 7 January 1839 read:


"Paris, 6th January 1839.


We have much pleasure in announcing an important discovery made by M. Daguerre, the celebrated painter of the Diorama. This discovery seems like a prodigy. It disconcerts all the theories of science in light and optics and, if borne out, promises to make a revolution in the arts of design.


M. Daguerre has discovered a method to fix the images which are represented at the back of a camera obscura; so that these images are not the temporary reflection of the object, but their fixed and durable impress, which may be removed from the presence of those objects like a picture or an engraving."


An article in La Gazette de France, of the same date, also showed one of the limitations of the process:


"Nature in motion cannot reproduce itself, or at least can do so only with great difficulty, by the technique in question. In one of the boulevard views.... it happened that all which moved or walked did not appear in the drawing...."


The early daguerreotypes had several drawbacks.




Taken in 1839, this picture of a boulevard gives the impression of empty streets, because with long exposures moving objects would not register.


  However, there was an exception when a man stopped to have his shoes shined, (see bottom left of the larger picture) and though he remains anonymous he may have the distinction of being the first person ever to have been photographed.



In 1851 Daguerre died. In a sense this symbolically ended an era, for that very same year a new technique was invented, which was another milestone in photography – the wet collodion process by Frederick Scott Archer.


There is considerable material to be found in the Daguerrian Society's web-site. Do have a look.


HERSCHEL, Sir John Frederick William

b. 7 March 1792; d. 11 May 1871

The only son of the distinguished British astronomer William Herschel, Sir John himself also became a well-known astronomer, and published an influential book on the subject.


He became interested in capturing and retaining images, and in 1839 had managed to fix pictures using hyposulphite of soda. In fact it was he who had discovered twenty years previously that hypo could dissolve silver salts.


Herschel, of course, had the fortune to be around just at the time both Daguerre and Fox Talbot were announcing their discoveries. He was evidently very smitten by the Daguerreotype, and conveyed the following news to Fox Talbot:


"It is hardly too much to call them miraculous. Certainly they surpass anything I could have conceived as within the bounds of reasonable expectation.... Every gradation of light and shade is given with a softness and fidelity which sets all painting at an immeasurable distance.... If you have a few days at your disposition....come and see!"


Fox Talbot, for his part, would not have been very happy about this news, as he was already upset that Daguerre had pipped him to the post in announcing his discovery!


It is also to Herschel that we also owe the word "photography", a term which he used in a paper entitled "Note on the art of Photography, or The Application of the Chemical Rays of Light to the Purpose of Pictorial Representation," presented to the Royal Society on 14 March 1839. He also coined the terms "negative" and positive" in this context, and also the "snap-shot".


The picture here is the very first photograph to be taken on glass. It was taken by Sir John herschel in 1839, and shows his father's telescope in Slough, near London. (Science Museum, London).*


MADDOX, Richard Leach

b. 4 August 1816; d. 11 May 1902

Dr. Richard Maddox, an English physician, worked on photo-micrography and wrote on various photographic topics, but it was not until 1871 that his greatest contribution to the science of photography was made. Up to his time, wet collodion plates were being used. These required that coating, exposure and development be done whilst the solution was still wet, and soon the need for pre-prepared plates became evident.


Maddox, a photography enthusiast, first started looking around for a substitute to collodion when he found his health being affected by the ether vapor of the collodion process. In an article in the British

Journal of Photography for 8 September 1871 he suggested a process whereby the sensitizing chemicals could be coated on a glass plate in a Gelatin emulsion, instead of wet collodion. Probably he had no idea at the time of the significance his discovery would have on the future of photography.


Some years later Charles Bennett and others made the first gelatin dry plates for sale on the open market, a revolutionary advance in the science of photography. By the end of that decade the dry plate process had superseded the wet plate one entirely, and within a further ten years the emulsion would be coated on celluloid roll film.


In 1901 Maddox received the Royal Photographic Society's Progress Medal for inventions that led to the foundation of the dry plate and film industry. He had freely made his ideas known, and never patented the process; sadly he ended his days in poverty.



MORSE, Samuel Finley Breese

b. 27 April 1791; d. 2 April 1872

Samuel Morse was an accomplished American artist, particularly of miniatures, and an inventor. He studied at Yale University, and then came to England for art training under the direction of Benjamin West.


During his visit to France in 1838, Morse met Louis Daguerre, and they became good friends; Morse then became one of the first to practice using daguerreotypes in the United States, sharing a studio with John W. Draper, a chemistry expert. One of his students was Mathew Brady, who became one of the greatest documentary photographers. Morse's first portraits were made using exposures of between 10 and 20 minutes, which must have been an unbelievable ordeal to the sitters!


His pictures of his class reunion, taken in 1840, is the first known group portrait. Morse is more popularly known for the signaling code that bears his name, and his development of the electric telegraph.



b. 9 April 1830; d. 8 May 1904

Edward James Muybridge was born in Kingston on Thames, and it is said that because this area is associated with the coronation of Saxon kings, he took on a name closely resembling (as he saw it) the Anglo Saxon equivalent. In his early twenties he went to live in America, gaining a reputation for his landscape photographs of the American West. As he used the collodion process, like other travel photographers he would have needed to take with him all the sensitizing and processing equipment, as all three processes of sensitization, exposure and processing needed to be done while the plate was still wet.


During the late sixties and early seventies he made some two thousand pictures, exposing negatives size 20x24 inch. Though he is not given due acclaim, many his landscape studies rank with the best.


However, Muybridge's main claim to fame (apart from being tried and acquitted for the murder of his wife's lover!) was his exhaustive study of movement. Just about this same time the French physiologist Etienne Marey was studying animal movement, and his studies

began to suggest that a horse's movements were very different from what one had imagined. One of the people who became aware of this research was Leland Stanford, a former governor of California, who owned a number of race horses. Stanford was determined

to find the truth about this. It is said that he bet a friend that when a horse gallops, at a particular point all four feet are off the ground simultaneously. To prove his case he hired Muybridge to investigate whether the claim was true.


By the 1870s lengthy exposures had been reduced to a minimum, and thus it became possible for photography to begin to extend one's vision of reality. It took a little time, however, for Muybridge to perfect a way of photographing which would supply the answer, for the Collodion process was rather slow.


Whilst working on this project Muybridge also undertook other assignments, and it was on his return from one of these, we are told, that he became aware that his wife was having an affair with another soldier. In true Wild West style he shot the soldier dead, and was

duly imprisoned for murder; however, presumably partly because of his connections, he was acquitted a little later, and was asked to photograph the Panama railroad, some distance away from the scene of the crime.


Returning to his movement experiments, a few years later Muybridge was able to photograph a horse galloping, using twenty four cameras, each triggered off by the breaking of a trip-wire on the course. He not only proved Leland right, but also showed that, contrary to what painters had depicted, a horse's feet are not, as hitherto believed, outstretched, as if like a rocking- horse, but bunched together under the belly. This discovery caused considerable controversy, but eventually became more generally accepted.


Muybridge's studies are very comprehensive, and include some detailed studies of men and women walking, running, jumping, and so on.


In 1878 an article in Scientific American published some of Muybridge's sequences, and suggested that readers might like to cut the pictures out and place them in a "zoetrope" so that the illusion of movement might be re-created. Intrigued by this, Muybridge experimented further, and in time invented the zoopraxiscope, an instrument which in turn paved the way for cine photography. This invention was greeted with enormous enthusiasm both in America, whilst in England a demonstration at the Royal Institution in 1882 attracted such people as the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister (Gladstone), Tennyson, and others.


In 1884 the University of Pennsylvania commissioned Muybridge to make a further study of animal and human locomotion. The report, "Animal Locomotion" was published three years later and still ranks as the most detailed study in this area. It contains more than twenty thousand images.


In 1900 Muybridge returned to Kingston, where he died a few years later. His zoopraxiscope, together with many of his plates, were bequeathed to the Kingston-upon-Thames Museum, where they are on display. Other plates are in the Royal Photographic Society's collection.


Sites come and go, but at the time of writing, there's one that shows people how to make a toy zoetrope. See HERE. Another one, showing a horse galloping, can be seen HERE.


NIEPCE, Joseph Nicephore

b. 7 March 1765; d. 5 July 1833

Niepce (pronounced Nee-ps) is universally credited with producing the first successful photograph in June/July 1827. He was fascinated with lithography, and worked on this process. Unable to draw, he needed the help of his artist son to make the images. However, when in 1814 his son was drafted into the army to fight at Waterloo, he was left having to look for another way of obtaining images. Eventually he succeeded, calling his product Heliographs (after the Greek "of the sun"). Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, writing in 1857, informs us that he was a man of private means, who had begun his researches in 1814. When he eventually succeeded, he came over to England later that year and sought to promote his invention via the Royal


Society (then as now regarded as the leading learned body concerned with science). However, the Royal Society had a rule that it would not publicize a discovery that contained an undivulged secret, so Niepce meet with total failure. Returning to France, he teamed up with Louis Daguerre in 1829, a partnership which lasted until his death only four years later, at the age of 69. He left behind him some examples of his heliographs, which are now in the Royal Photographic Society's collection.


This is the first known photograph.** There is little merit in this picture other than that fact. It is difficult to decipher: the building is on the left, a tree a third in from the left, and a barn immediately in front. The exposure lasted eight hours, so the sun had time to move from east to west, appearing to shine on both sides of the building.


** I have been taken to task by some who point to the picture in the Turin Shroud as being the first photograph. Whether the shroud dates back to the time of Jesus Christ, which most scholars discount, or whether it dates from around 1000AD, it does certainly show an image of a dead person. Whether this was produced intentionally though is more unlikely. The picture shown here is generally acknowledged to be the first image produced intentionally.


SCHULZE, Johann Heinrich

b. 1684; d.1744

Schulze was a German Professor at the University of Altdorf, whose experiments paved the way towards photography. Though it was known that certain chemicals darken when exposed to the sun, it was not clear whether it was the action of light or heat which had this effect. In 1727 Schulze heated some silver nitrate in an oven, and discovering that it did not darken was able to eliminate heat as the darkening agent. Having noticed that a glass jar containing a particular chemical mixture changed colour on one side - that facing the window, he applied paper stencils to a bottle containing silver nitrate and chalk, discovering that where the substance was not exposed to light it remained white. He published details of his investigations, but these did not become popular until after he had died.


TALBOT, William Henry Fox

       b. 11 February 1800; d. 17 September 1877

His signature is Henry Talbot, and though he is said to have disliked being called Fox Talbot, that name has stuck.


Though Fox Talbot was not the first to produce photographs, he made a major contribution to the photographic process as we know it today.


Talbot studied the classics and mathematics at Cambridge, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1822, and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1832. He was also an MP, Biblical scholar, a Botanist and Assyriologist, making a contribution to the deciphering of cuneiform inscriptions brought to England from Nineveh.


Though some of his pictures show a measure of artistic taste, it was his inability to draw which caused him to experiment with a mechanical method of capturing and retaining an image. Talbot attempted to draw with the aid of both a camera obscura and a camera lucida when producing his sketches, one of which was Villa Melzi. Later he wrote:


"(In) October, 1833, I was amusing myself on the lovely shores of the Lake of Como in Italy, taking sketches with a Camera Lucida, or rather, I should say, attempting to make them; but with the smallest possible amount of success...


After various fruitless attempts I laid aside the instrument and came to the conclusion that its use required a previous knowledge of drawing which unfortunately I did not possess.


I then thought of trying again a method which I had tried many years before. This method was to take a Camera Obscura and to throw the image of the objects on a piece of paper in its focus - fairy pictures, creations of a moment, and destined as rapidly to fade away...


It was during these thoughts that the idea occurred to me... how charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably and remain fixed on the paper!"


The earliest surviving paper negative is of the now famous Oriel window in the South Gallery at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, where he lived. It is dated August 1835. Talbot's comments read "When first made, the squares of glass about 200 in number could be counted, with help of a lens."


Talbot described how he took his pictures:


  "Not having with me... a camera obscura of any considerable size, I constructed one out of a large box, the image being thrown upon one end of it by a good object-glass fixed at the opposite end. The apparatus being armed with a sensitive paper, was taken out in a summer afternoon, and placed about one hundred yards from a building favorably illuminated by the sun. An or so afterwards I opened the box and I found depicted upon the paper a very distinct representation of the building, with the exception of those parts of it which lay in the shade. A little experience in this branch of the art showed me that with a smaller camera obscura the effect would be produced in a smaller time. Accordingly I had several small boxes made, in which I fixed lenses of shorter focus, and with these I obtained very perfect, but extremely small pictures..."


  These "little boxes", measuring two or three inches, were named "mousetraps" by the family at Lacock, because of the various places they were to be found.


January 1839 was a busy month as far as announcements of discoveries were concerned. On 7 January Daguerre announced the development of his process. A few days later Talbot wrote to Arago, who had promoted Daguerre's invention, suggesting that it was he, not Daguerre, who had invented the photographic process. (At that time he was unaware that the process was entirely different). One of Arago's fellow-scientists replied that Daguerre had, in fact, devised a number of processes over fourteen years.


Doubtless annoyed that Daguerre had been put in the lime-light he felt he himself deserved, Talbot began to publicize his own process. On 25 January 1839 he announced the discovery at the Royal Institution of a method of "photogenic drawing."


At the time the sensitivity of the process was extremely poor. Then, in September 1840 Fox Talbot discovered the phenomenon of the latent image. It is said that this was a chance discovery, when he attempted to re-sensitize some paper which had failed to work in previous experiments; as the chemical was applied, an image, previously invisible, began to appear. This was a major breakthrough which led to drastically lowered exposure times - from one hour or so to 1-3 minutes. Talbot he called the improved version the calotype (from the Greek "Kalos", meaning beautiful) and on 31 January he gave a paper to the Royal Society of London. The paper was entitled "Some account of the Art of Photogenic drawing, or the process by which natural objects may be made to delineate themselves without the aid of the artist's pencil."


Talbot patented his invention on 8 February 1841, an act which considerably arrested the development of photography at the time. The patent (a separate one being taken out for France) applied to England and Wales. Talbot chose not to extend his patent to Scotland, and this paved the way for some outstanding photographs to be produced in Edinburgh by Hill and Adamson.


In 1844 Talbot began issuing a book entitled "The Pencil of Nature", the first commercial book to be illustrated with actual photographs. In order to produce these prints, he helped his former valet, Nicolaas Henneman to set up the Reading Establishment, a photographic processing studio within relatively easy reach of both London and Lacock. This however lasted only four years, as it was not a financial success.


Talbot's process in general never reached the popularity of the daguerreotype process, partly because the latter produced such amazing detail, but partly because Talbot asked so much for the rights to use his process. A writer of the time, Henry Snelling, commented:


"He is a man of some wealth, I believe, but he demands so high a price for a single right.... that none can be found who have the temerity to purchase."


Consequently calotypes never flourished as they might have, and the fault must lie largely with him.


The newly formed Calotype club sought unsuccessfully to persuade Talbot to relax his restrictions in order to encourage the growth of photography. It is claimed that Talbot, somewhat put out by the fact that Daguerre had received many honors whilst he had been given none, was reacting accordingly.


Sadly Talbot's name was somewhat tarnished by his series of attempts to enforce his patent. A claim in 1854 that the Collodion process was also covered by his calotype patent. was lost in court, and from then onwards, knowing that the faster and better collodion process was free for all to use, there were no further restrictions and photography began to take off in a big way.


Having said this, there exists some evidence that there had been a concerted attempt to discredit Talbot in order to overturn the patent. Talbot increasingly viewed the defense of his calotype patent as a defense of Henneman, who had invested heavily in setting up the Reading Establishment . Talbot was enormously loyal to Henneman, and concerned about profit being made at his expense It is possible, therefore, that history has been a little too harsh on Fox Talbot. He too had spent a considerable amount of money developing his invention, and it has been suggested that his enforcement of patents was more due to his careful upbringing as far as finances were concerned than his desire to make a fortune. Other documents, particularly relating to the early days of the Photographic Society, reveal him to be far more magnanimous and generous than is commonly supposed. (See Talbot and patents.)


Talbot summarized his achievement thus:


"I do not profess to have perfected an art but to have commenced one, the limits of which it is not possible at present exactly to ascertain. I only claim to have based this art on a secure foundation."


The Royal Photographic Society has two complete sets of the limited edition of "Pencil of Nature", together with many of Fox Talbot's letters, books and documents.


August 1999: A new web-site led by Professor Larry J. Schaaf is becoming the definitive site on this remarkable inventor. It is part of a three year project, and is a must for any student of Talbot. It is located at


P.S. On a lighter note, in a discussion on Talbot’s' name, someone came up with what must be the definitive answer: "He was called Fox because he was a particularly cunning animal, and finally outran the Dag-hare!"




The first photographic film is credited to John Corbutt †, an Englishman working in Philadelphia, who in 1888 coated sheets of celluloid with photographic emulsion. The following year George Eastman produced roll film, designed for a new camera called the Kodak; after exposure the film would be returned still in the camera for processing.


Daylight loading film was produced by Eastman Kodak in 1894.


The early films were highly inflammable, and gradually became replaced by non inflammable cellulose acetate in the 1930s. Cine projection seemed to be a pretty hazardous business, if the advice to users printed in New Photographer, 2 January 1926 is anything to go by:


"Choose a room with more than one exit door if possible, and make sure that the windows can be easily opened in the event of the film charring and beginning to emit smoke, as this smoke is poisonous... Keep a bucket of damp sand close by the projector, and at the first sign of a flare-up throw the machine on the bare floor and tip the sand all over it. If this is done smartly without fuss, and if the people are at once got out of the room and the windows opened, no great harm will accrue beyond the destruction of the film..."


† Well, it depends where you look! One book states that the idea of a paper roll film was first conceived by Arthur James Melhuish in 1854. Even more interesting is the story of Revd. Hannibal Goodwin, which clearly suggests that Eastman Kodak had made a claim to inventing film that was unjustified.



COLOR, Photography in

Though the invention of photography had an immediate impact on the whole art world, the early photographs were in monochrome. As an additional service, daguerreotypes could be hand- painted, which kept a number of painters of miniatures in business. However, it was to be some time before colour photography was to become a reality.


In the 1860s James Clerk Maxwell, using as a subject a tartan ribbon, showed that three monochrome images could be formed of a subject, each one taken using a different colour filter (red, blue and green). By projecting these images using three lanterns, each equipped with a corresponding filter, the colours could be recreated.


The results were somewhat disappointing to Maxwell and his collaborator Thomas Sutton, but nevertheless they deserve the credit for laying the foundations of trichromate color photography.


Interestingly, strictly speaking this experiment should never have worked! Maxwell did not know this, but at that time the emulsion in use only responded to light at the blue end of the spectrum. So how could anything have been recorded on the "red" and "green" slides? It was not until one hundred years later that when the experiment was repeated, it was discovered that the green filter had also passed some blue light, whilst the ribbon's red colours were also reflecting ultra-violet rays, which had been recorded on the red plate. However, though this (by sheer coincidence) produced the right effect, it does not detract from Maxwell's discovery, for with an appropriate emulsion responding to all colours the method works well.


In 1873 Herman Vogel discovered sensitizing dyes, which was a step forward in the pursuit of full colour photography. As a result of his work, "orthochromatic" plates, sensitive to all colours with the exception of red, were produced.


When in 1906 "panchromatic" films, sensitive to all colours, came into production, some photographers began taking three "separation" negatives, using a viewer which enabled one to see all three slides superimposed upon one another.


In 1907 Auguste and Louis Lumière produced plates they called Autochrome, using a different system from that above. The colours appeared in delicate pastel shades, often looking very dark, but were well received at the time.


Back in 1869 Ducas du Hauron had published a book offering another method - the subtractive one - by which colour could be re-created. One of his suggestions had been that instead of mixing colour lights, one could combine dyed images; film could be coated with three very thin layers of emulsion, each sensitive to the primary colours; once processed as positives, the transparency could then be viewed as a full colour photograph. At the time, however, the emulsions were such that none of his proposals could be tested. It was not until the mid 1930s that Kodak was to produce a film based on this principle, to be named Kodachrome; up till then the additive methods suggested by Maxwell had been used.



Harold Edgerton