Notes, Thoughts, and Ideas.

The First Photography

A 17th century illustration of a camera obscura.

A 17th century illustration of a camera obscura.

The 19th century saw the invention of, at the time, an incredibly new and exciting media: photography.

The first surviving photograph was taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce with a camera obscura in 1826 or 1827, titled View from the Window at Le Gras. He had made a heliograph from an engraving of Pope Pius VII in 1822, but when he tried to duplicate it years later it was destroyed, making his later photograph the one that was remembered.

The view from the upstairs window of Niecpes estate -- the first permanent photograph.

The view from the upstairs window of Niécpe’s estate: the first surviving photograph.

 

The camera obscura is a simple device that uses a light projection box to project the image of its surroundings on a screen, which can then be traced or engraved onto material.

The first camera obscura was used to watch a solar eclipse in 1544. Of course, it took a few centuries after that to discover all that the camera obscura could be used for – most notably photography.

The first accessible method of photography came from Niécpe and Louis Daguerre, though Niécpe died before the invention was complete. Called the daguerrotype, this method used a copper plate coated with silver treated with iodine vapor for light sensitivity. Mercury vapor was used for development and salt fixed the image.

The Susse Fréres Daguerrotype camera from 1939.

The Susse Fréres Daguerrotype camera from 1939.

Daguerrotype cameras were large and boxy, but compared to former photography methods, they were quite streamlined (check out our article about the photo cousin of the daguerrotype: the tintype.)

George Eastman’s 1885 invention of film led to much smaller and more accessible cameras: his Kodak film was made to be sent by the customer to be developed at a factory.

And you probably know how successful that turned out to be.

Stay tuned for part II of the history of photography!

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