Sid Jones, a member of the Dorchester Camera Club took us through a compact history of photography last meeting, which was well received by club members. Sid’s approach was to look at the key moments through technical advances in the chemical medium from Nicéphore Niépce and his associate Louis Daguerre, Fox Talbot and the gradual increase in the speed of exposure from 8 hours to, eventually, fractions of a second. He then explored some of the key figures behind the lens before giving us a selection of his most influential Twentieth Century Photographers: Ansel Adams, Eliot Erwit, Henri Cartier-Bresson to name but three. There are of course thousands of photographs that could make it onto anyone’s shortlist. So this weeks blog is a more leisurely look at the time line of the development of photographic processing from chemical to digital mainly with the help of the George Eastman House Foundation YouTube Channel.
Photography as we know it starts with the fixing of a photograph to give it a lifespan beyond the immediate. That was Niépce’s achievement, though light had been used to paint for centuries before that. So, although our hobby as we know it is barely 150 years old, it origins go back to ancient Greece and Aristotle (384 BC to 322 BC). Dageurre, though, was the person who produced the first useable, mass production method for producing photographs. Henry Fox-Talbot produced the first paper negative and then developed the negative positive process so many of us started out with, around the same time (calotype). Photography as a sharable medium over time was born in 1839. But it wouldn’t have got far without Sir John Herschel who not only invented hypo (“fix” for the image so that it didn’t immediately start to fade) but also came up with an iron salt based system with a predominantly blue tint known as a cyanotype. You probably know it in its engineering form, the blueprint.
The Albumen print came about in 1850 and is a version of Fox Talbot’s paper based process using egg whites, the invention of Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard, a Lille Cloth merchant it was probably the most popular form of print in the Nineteenth Century, not least because of the rise of the “Carte de Visit” which we looked at consequent to this seasons Chair’s Evening. Fredrick Scott Archer, butcher, silversmith, sculptor, inventor and photographer is next up with the invention of the Collodion in 1851, more precisely the Wet Plate Collodion. More viable than the Dageurreotype but it necessitated a portable dark room, the wet plate being the clue here, when the photographer was out and about. It was the process Roger Fenton recorded his Crimean War images on. As the Albumen print democratised photograph so the Platinum print, invented in 1873 by Willis and Clements and perfected over the next seven years, platinum printing, or the Platinotype, was an attempt to promote photography as a fine art. Platinum has never been a cheap way to do anything.
In the last quarter of the C19th, the so called pigment processes (Carbon Print Process, Gum Bichromate) where gelatine coatings to a paper base allowed for images to be reproduced in continuous tones with the excess being washed away to create highlights and the darker, hardened gelatine that remained formed the dark areas, came to wide use among the art school photographers still burdened by the doubts cast by their painterly cousins on the artistic value of a photograph. 1864 saw the invention of the Woodburytype, remarkable for the fact that it was a relief image that covered with pigmented gelatine could yield a mould that many thousands of copies could be run from. They look like photographs but they were actually made on a press, the gelatin covering hardening in relation to the amount of light it received.
The real mass market, the one that stands both sides of the camera, came fully into life with the Gelatin Silver Process. A late C19th century process, it was the first that didn’t really require you to carry your darkroom with you. It dominated C20th photography, it was the motor of George Eastman’s Kodak company, “You press the button and we do the rest” (1892). Colour, as we have seen elsewhere, had a long gestation. It all really changed around 2004 when the sales of digital cameras first exceeded the sales of film cameras. The digital age was truly upon us and Kodak didn’t move with the times quick enough. In 2012 they filed for bankruptcy.
It is all about the image in the end and the stories we attach to them – more of that next meeting. For the first time in Human history a true likeness could be taken of an individual, place or thing and, given the right process mass produced. Or put on the wall and treasured. Or left in the back of a draw to be discovered. We have had several conversations on the blog about notions of truth and photography and it is a continuing and evolving argument.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Critiquing your images – Ian Gearing.