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Photographs and Pictures: 19th and early 20th century

old_photo_broadSt_1860Anyone interested in the early technical and social history of the photograph is recommended to read 'Dating Old Photographs' by Robert Pols.  Published by the Federation of Family History Societies, it is available at the County Archives Office, and through your Local Library. 

Following the early pioneering work by Joseph Nicephore Niepce in France which achieved the first photographic image capable of being made permanent, the first practical photographic processes were:

  • the Daguerreotype by Louis Daguerre 1839 which used a copper photographic plate, and
  • the Calotype by William Henry Fox Talbot 1841 which used a paper plate.

Exposure times of up to 30 minutes were required, but it was soon discovered that a latent, that is invisible image, could be developed in 2 or 3 minutes.
Both the Daguerreotype and Calotype had been replaced by the Wet Collodion Process by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851, which used a glass plate, and could be developed to produce a one-off picture known as an Ambrotype.  It could also be used to print out on albumen paper.  The process became very popular with professional photographers, in spite of the cumbersome equipment and complicated exposure/ developing/fixing process required. 

Photographic Studios proliferated, and gave rise in the 1850s and 60s to the Carte de Visite, a popular method of personal introduction, Cabinet Prints, and also to Tintypes which used small iron plates.  Tintypes were popular with itinerant photographers for producing cheap portraiture.  The  process could be used equally well  outdoors,  the photographs of The Crimea and American Civil Wars being produced in this way.

The popularity of the Wet Collodion Process retarded the introduction of the Dry Plate.  In 1871 Dr Richard Leech Maddox published a method for producing gelatine dry plates and by 1873 they were being mass-produced.  It was soon discovered that heating the light sensitive coating at 90 degrees Fahrenheit for about two days, brought the exposure time down to 1/25 second.  Combined with faster shutter speeds, this enabled instantaneous pictures of moving objects to be taken by the mid 1880s.

The Dry Plate remained in use by professional and amateur photographers well into the 20th Century (and is still used for some applications today).  However in 1888 George Eastman patented and introduced the No.1 Kodak Camera, which came ready loaded with his revolutionary paper-backed gelatine roll film.  This film produced circular pictures 2 1/2 inches in diameter one hundred to a roll, but was quickly replaced by Celluloid film in 1890, in rolls giving twelve or twenty four prints.  This was the first point and shoot Snap Shot camera aimed at a mass market, there being no focusing or exposure controls and no view finder.  When the film was completed the whole camera was sent to Kodak where the exposed film was removed, replaced with a fresh one and then developed and printed.  The popular Box Brownie followed in 1900, which gave 2 1/4 inch square prints.

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