LA 08 – History of Photography

The history of Photography is a very interesting theme with some important milestones. From the theory we have read I’ve chosen three main events to get to know more about them; 1) Camera Obscura, 2) Daguerreotype and 3) Flexible roll film.  I’ve also chosen a picture from the 19th century and written some thoughts about it.

Question 1 – Three events from the timeline in History of Photography

1) Camera Obscura – The First Photograph

Camera obscura from Latin, meaning «dark room»: camera «(vaulted) chamber or room,» and obscura «darkened, dark», also referred to as pinhole image, is the natural optical phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a screen (or for instance a wall) is projected through a small hole in that screen as a reversed and inverted image (left to right and upside down) on a surface opposite to the opening. The surroundings of the projected image have to be relatively dark for the image to be clear, so many historical camera obscura experiments were performed in dark rooms.

Early Camera Obscura, c. 1800-1830
Early Camera Obscura, c. 1800-1830

The term «camera obscura» also refers to constructions or devices that make use of the principle within a box, tent or room. Camerae obscurae with a lens in the opening have been used since the second half of the 16th century and became popular as an aid for drawing and painting. The camera obscura box was developed further into the photographic camera in the first half of the 19th century when camera obscura boxes were used to expose light-sensitive materials to the projected image.

A camera obscura. Because of the nature of optics, this scene is always upside down.

The camera obscura was used as a means to study eclipses, without the risk of damaging the eyes by looking into the sun directly. As a drawing aid, the camera obscura allowed tracing the projected image to produce a highly accurate representation, especially appreciated as an easy way to achieve a proper graphical perspective.Before the term «camera obscura» was first used in 1604, many other expressions were used including «cubiculum obscurum», «cubiculum tenebricosum», «conclave obscurum» and «locus obscurus».

A camera obscura device without a lens but with a very small hole is sometimes referred to as a «pinhole camera«, although this more often refers to simple (home-made) lens-less cameras in which photographic film or photographic paper is used.

View from the Window at Le Gras by Nicéphore Niépce from 1826 or 1827 (manually enhanced version) .

View from the Window at Le Gras is a heliographic image and the oldest surviving camera photograph. It was created by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827 at Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France, and shows parts of the buildings and surrounding countryside of his estate, Le Gras, as seen from a high window.

Close up of the original plate. With the enhanced version as a guide the major elements of the scene can just be discerned.

Niépce captured the scene with a camera obscura focused onto a 16.2 cm × 20.2 cm (6.4 in × 8.0 in) pewter plate thinly coated with Bitumen of Judea, a naturally occurring asphalt. The bitumen hardened in the brightly lit areas, but in the dimly lit areas it remained soluble and could be washed away with a mixture of oil of lavender and white petroleum. A very long exposure in the camera was required. Sunlight strikes the buildings on opposite sides, suggesting an exposure that lasted about eight hours, which has become the traditional estimate. A researcher who studied Niépce’s notes and recreated his processes found that the exposure must have continued for several days.

The original plate on display at the Ransom Center in 2004.


Portrait of the young Nicéphore Niépce
One of Niepc’s «sun print» works, and apparently the oldest known photograph in the world (1827).

2) Daguerreotype – The First Publicly Available Photographic Process

The Daguerreotype process, invented by Louis Daguerre, was the first publicly available photographic process, and for nearly twenty years it was the one most commonly used.

Daguerreotype of Louis Daguerre in 1844 by Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot

To make the image, a daguerrotypist would polish a sheet of silver-plated copper to a mirror finish, treat it with fumes that made its surface light sensitive, expose it in a camera for as long as was judged to be necessary, which could be as little as a few seconds for brightly sunlit subjects or much longer with less intense lighting; make the resulting latent image on it visible by fuming it with mercury vapor; remove its sensitivity to light by liquid chemical treatment, rinse and dry it, then seal the easily marred result behind glass in a protective enclosure.

Daguerreotype camera built by La Maison Susse Frères in 1839, with a lens by Charles Chevalier

The image is on a mirror-like silver surface, normally kept under glass, and will appear either positive or negative, depending on the angle at which it is viewed, how it is lit and whether a light or dark background is being reflected in the metal. The darkest areas of the image are simply bare silver; lighter areas have a microscopically fine light-scattering texture. The surface is very delicate, and even the lightest wiping can permanently scuff it. Some tarnish around the edges is normal.

Graphic representation of the steps involved in making a daguerreotype

Several types of antique photographs, most often ambrotypes and tintypes, but sometimes even old prints on paper, are very commonly misidentified as daguerreotypes, especially if they are in the small, ornamented cases in which daguerreotypes made in the US and UK were usually housed. The name «daguerreotype» correctly refers only to one very specific image type and medium, the product of a process that was in wide use only from the early 1840s to the late 1850s.

Less expensive processes yielding more readily viewable images. During the past few decades, there has been a small revival of daguerreotypy among photographers interested in making artistic use of early photographic processes.

This picture «Boulevard du Temp» was taken by Louis Daguerre in 1838, using the technique daguerreotype.

3) Flexible Roll Film – Making Photography Accessible for Everyone

Original Kodak Camera, Serial No. 540

This Original Kodak camera, introduced by George Eastman, placed the power of photography in the hands of anyone who could press a button. Unlike earlier cameras that used a glass-plate negative for each exposure, the Kodak came preloaded with a 100-exposure roll of flexible film. After finishing the roll, the consumer mailed the camera back to the factory to have the prints made. In capturing everyday moments and memories, the Kodak’s distinctive circular snapshots defined a new style of photography–informal, personal, and fun.

Original Kodak film pack, c.1890

George Eastman invented flexible roll film and in 1888 introduced the Kodak camera shown to use this film. It took 100-exposure rolls of film that gave circular images 2 5/8″ in diameter. In 1888 the original Kodak sold for $25 loaded with a roll of film and included a leather carrying case.The Original Kodak was fitted with a rotating barrel shutter unique to this model. The shutter was set by pulling up a string on top of the camera and operated by pushing a button on the side of the camera. After taking a photograph, a key on top of the camera was used to wind the film onto the next frame.

Celluloid roll film, c 1890
Celluloid roll film, c 1890

There is no viewfinder on the camera; instead two V shaped lines on the top of the camera leather are intended to aid aiming the camera at the subject. The barrel shutter proved to be expensive to manufacture and unreliable in operation. The following year the shutter was replaced by a simpler sector shutter in the No 1 Kodak. After 100 pictures had been taken on the film strip, the camera could be returned to the Kodak factory for developing and printing at a cost of $10. The camera, loaded with a fresh roll of film was returned with the negatives and mounted prints. Kodak advertisements from 1888 also state that any amateur could «finish his own pictures» and spare rolls of film were sold for $2. This made hand held cameras accessible for everyone and hence mass production of these box cameras.



Question 2 – Think piece about a photograph from 19th century

For this assignment I have chosen a picture that really captures my attention and curiosity.

This picture «Boulevard du Temp» was taken by Louis Daguerre in 1838, using the technique daguerreotype.

«Boulevard du Temple«, a daguerreotype made by Louis Daguerre in 1838, is generally accepted as the earliest photograph to include people. It is a view of a busy street, but because the exposure lasted for several minutes the moving traffic left no trace. Only the two men near the bottom left corner, one of them apparently having his boots polished by the other, remained in one place long enough to be visible. As with most daguerreotypes, the image is a mirror image.

Since this technique needed a long exposure, I keep wondering what happened around these two men that they saw, but was not captured in the picture for us to see now. Apparently did they also know nothing about the history they were about to create and become a part of. This is bringing me to the photographer Daguerre, wondering if this was thoroughly planned by him in advance or just a convenient coincidence? I think the shoe shiner had his permanent spot on this corner – for his returning customers. Maybe Daguerre had spotted him there earlier and wanted to make use of the situation.

The Photo is really beautiful with all its visible details – capturing the moment for us to go back in time. The picture is taken from above on a distance – giving a good overview. You can see the shadows from the trees, the poster/ signs on the walls in the upper, left corner and the cobblestone in the road. The Boulevard is almost fading in a mysterious mist in the far end into the blur of the bright sky. I keep wondering «what’s in the end of the road»?


This assignment has made me more curious about the history of Photography and use of the different early techniques to get different visual expressions. I find it difficult to understand all the technical processes, but it’s impressive how the early explorers used knowledge within chemistry to develop their techniques. I believe it’s important to achieve a basic understanding of this concepts to really understand the aspects of the theory within photography.

I have done the basic research and feel as if I’m ready to explore different camera techniques and settings and how to work with the pictures in programs as Photoshop.


Film and series
BBC Documentary «The Genius of Photography»

«History of Photography: An Introduction» from Noroff School


Google Translate


Google searches

Daguerreotype camera

Daguerreotype process

Earliest Photographs

Oldest Photographs

Camera Obscura 1830

Pinhole Camera Old

Joseph Nicephore Niepce

Flexible Roll Film History

Kodak Film Strip 1890

George Eastman

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