history of photography // no. 3

While I’m waiting on the graphic designer to put the finishing touches on our latest editorial (eeeek!) I’m going to take a moment to talk about the history of photography (yay!).

the wet-plate collodion process //

In 1840’s, if you wanted your portrait to be made, you had the choice between a Daguerrotype and a Calotype, which we will talk about later. Daguerreotypes were stunningly sharp and the process was much more sensitive to light yielding a beautiful photographic likeness. The downside? There was only one, so there were no copies for family members or friends. No negative/positive funny business. However, the Calotype produced between 50 to 100 reprints from one paper negative. The downside? The final print was soft, somewhat dreamlike, and the process was not as sensitive to light which required longer exposure times. Not too good for portraits. Then, a man named Fredrick Scott Archer invented the Collodion process in 1851. It was as if he took the best of both mediums and created one single process. The Collodion, or wet-plate process, was much more sensitive to light, produced sharp photographs, and was able to be duplicated! Awesome right? Well, like everything else there is always a downside, and this process had quite a few of ’em. The photograph was made directly onto a glass plate (which became the negative) making travel kind of a pain in the butt. Imagine wanting to take ten photographs on vacation. You would have to carry ten pieces of glass! Whew! Along with the fact you had to basically be Hercules to be a photographer, the plate had to be coated, exposed, and developed on-location making it necessary to have a portable darkroom with you at all times (or a photographic van / see no.1 below). And chemistry. And a ton of glass. The photographs though? Gorgeous prints that could be duplicated! Take  a look >>

photographic van, julia margaret cameron, carleton watkins the three brother, sally mann daughter, wet plate, good exposure, valerie petralia, history of photography

// 1. a photographic van used for making wet-plate photos on-the-go // 2. I Wait, 1872 Julia Margaret Cameron // 3. The Three Brothers, after 1860 Carleton E. Watkins // 4. Part of the “Family Pictures” series by Sally Mann, 1984-1991

links for more information on collodion photography //
video // how-to
video // history of collodion by george eastman house
article // getty.edu


history of photography // no.2

I’ve been thinking about writing the second history of photography post since I clicked publish on the last one! It excites me so much to spread knowledge about the history of photography.

Remember the last post? We talked about Niépce and the first photograph ever made in 1826. About 23 years later in 1838, a man by the name of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, often shortened to Louis Daguerre, created the first photograph of a human being! Niépce and Daguerre were business partners from 1829 up until Niépce suddenly passed away in 1833. After the death of his fellow inventor, Daguerre continued his research in photography. He is most notably recognized for inventing the Daguerrotype, but created paintings and dioramas. After many dead-ends with investors, Daguerre went public with his photographic invention in 1839 and it took the masses by storm. The quality of a daguerrotype surpassed all other forms of photography during the era. The subject’s likeness seemed to have floated on top of the metal surface and created a very three dimension and lifelike portrait. The downside? (or upside, if you’re a collector these days) – There was only one. One photo, that was it. The surface it was created on was the same surface that was sold to the client. In other words, once the photo was sold, the photographer nor the studio had a copy. There were no copies. Pretty amazing huh? So, it’s pretty darn exciting when you see one, to say the least. There are a few notable photographers these days that have used the daguerrotype process to create stunning modern portraits. Check out the latest from Chuck Close.

Back to the photograph we’re discussing today! (It’s pretty easy to take off on a daguerrotype tangent.)

Boulevard du Temple, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, 1838

louis daguerre, boulvard du temple, first photo of a person, human, 1838, daguerrotype, paris france

You were expecting a portrait of a person huh? Well, that’s not exactly how it happened. You see, daguerrotypes took a long, long time to expose. Because of this, the bustling streets of Paris seem bare in this photograph. Due to the long exposure, the photographer was unable to stop the motion of people walking down the street, but the man in the bottom left was enjoying an afternoon in Paris and stopped for a shoe-shine. He was there just long enough for the camera to expose his silhouette. How incredible! This is a pretty high-resolution version, so click on it, zoom in, and look a little closer – you never know what you’re going to discover.

history of photography // no. 1

If you know me (on the internet, or even in real life) you know how completely intrigued I am with photographs from the past. Daguerrotypes, tintypes, CDV’s, silver gelatin prints – I love it all. Personally, photographs tell a story not only through the subject matter, but also through the tangible print. I love feeling the old papers (or metal) and creating little stories in my head about the photographer and the potential thought process they experienced when creating their photographs. Sometimes I even take out my loupe and look super duper close at each individual grain on the print. I even remember when I studied abroad, one of our German professors (who must’ve had the same love for vintage prints) randomly passed out a photo to each of the students and asked us to write a 3 page paper on it. At the time, it seemed pretty impossible. How was I supposed to write a three page paper about a man in a photo that I never, ever knew? But the more time I spent with the print, the more I stared and really studied it, clues about the man’s life starting revealing themselves and before you knew it I had five pages that needed to be summarized into three!

With that said, and with college six months in the past, I am still striving for a way to discover history through photography. I wanted to add a page to Good Exposure’s blog that talks about historically significant photographs, processes, and photographers. I think sometimes, with the ease and mass availability of digital photography we can sometimes forget what a grueling and expensive process photography once was. And although camera’s are more convenient than ever before, the talent of a photographer, is still the main variable in creating a successful photograph.

It would only be right to start with the very first photograph ever permanently fixed.

View from the Window at Le Gras, Nicéphore Niépce, 1826

Nicéphore Niépce, view from the window at le gras, france, first photograph ever taken, paris, good exposure, history of photography

I suppose the many this photo seems a bit hum-drum. Yawwwwwwn. What are we looking at again? OH YEAH! No biggy, it’s just the first photograph EVER taken, that didn’t disappear into thin air!

You see, when photography was first being invented, photographs were being made, but they didn’t last. Photographers were searching for a way to help the likeness they created simply stay on the surface in which they created it. In 1826, a man by the name of Nicéphore Niépce did just that. He set up his camera, pointing it through a window, and exposed this photograph for eight hours! Yes, folks, eight whole hours to make one single photograph. How can we tell? If you look carefully, the building on the left is illuminated on it’s right side, the one in the middle is illuminated on the roof, and the one on the right is illuminated on the left. This is the normal light and shadow patterns created when the sun is rising, at high noon, and setting. How wonderful right?!

Here is a modern photograph documenting the original metal plate used to create View from the Window at Le Gras. It is housed today in Austin, TX.

Nicéphore Niépce, view from the window at le gras, good exposure, miami, austin, texas, florida

Coolest part of this whole story? You can still visit Nicéphore Niépce’s house in France. We did it when we were studying abroad in 2007. You can still go up to his attic where he stored all of his chemicals, and best of all, you can still look out of the window at Le Gras!