In the early 1800’s a physicist named Joseph Niepce began trying to find a way to create a permanent image. Later, in the mid 1820’s, he stumbled upon a light sensitive substance called bitumen. Excited about his new find, he immediately placed a bitumen coated copper plate inside his camera obscura, and then positioned the device before a window overlooking his estate. After exposing the plate to the light for eight hours, a proud Niepce was rewarded with an extremely blurry image of the trees outside – the world’s first photograph.
In 1829, Niepce entered a partnership with an eccentric venture capitalist named Louis Daguerre. Together, they worked to improve the original method of image rendering ivan dunov cello used by Niepce. However, sadly, before they made very much progress, Niepce passed away. It was left up to Daguerre to continue the work that they started. After a long search for a more appropriate substance for the plate coating, he found, much to his delight, that silver iodine coated plates created a better quality photo than did bitumen. He observed that treating the plate with mercury fumes reduced exposure time dramatically. The mercury caused the amalgamation of the silver producing a bright white coating on all the white areas of the scene. If the plate was then washed with a solution of salt and water, the resulting image was of stunning quality and would not darken with age.
So, on January 7, 1839, Daguerre announced the invention of his photographic device, which he called a daguerreotype, to the public. The daguerreotype was an instant hit. People were frenzied by the high quality of the images produced, and there wasn’t a wealthy man in the town who didn’t purchase a daguerreotype for the pleasure of photographing his family.
Although the picture quality of a daguerreotype was stunning, and exposure time was only a few minutes, there were several drawbacks to this type of photography. Firstly, the method of developing a photo was extremely toxic and hazardous to the developer, since mercury is poisonous to the human body. Secondly, pictures could not be reproduced. Also, since they were very delicate, daguerreotypes had to be kept in glass cases which made them difficult to view from certain angles. Additionally, the equipment necessary to take a photo was bulky and expensive.
As a young man going on vacation in 1874, George Eastman was convinced by a friend to purchase a daguerreotype to photograph his trip. When Eastman bought the equipment, he found it ridiculously expensive, complicated, and bulky; altogether impossible to carry about easily on his trip. That set him to wondering why cheap, lightweight cameras could not be made easily available to the wider public.
His first task was to replace the silver iodine coated plates. After experimenting with dozens of methods in his kitchen, Eastman found that a thin layer of light sensitive celluloid fastened to a paper backing produced the desired effect. Next, he developed a simple black box-type camera which was small enough to be held. To take a photo, you simply pressed a button which released the shutter and exposed that frame of the film to light. To take another you turned a key to advance the spool of film to the next frame and the camera was ready for use again. After 14 years of research and experiments, George Eastman had realized his dream of creating a small, simple, easy-to-operate camera which could be afforded by the middle class. His cameras, which he called the Kodaks, went on sale in July 1888.
The Kodak met enormous public approval and Eastman became very rich. At the time, to have a film developed, you had to send the entire camera to the Kodak factory in New York. There the film was developed, the camera reloaded with fresh film, and the prints and camera were mailed back to you. This of course meant that meanwhile you were without your camera. Later, professional photographers in major cities were able to develop the film, reducing the time required to reload cameras.
Today, cameras are everywhere. Disposable film cameras, which were invented in 1986, remain very popular with casual photographers today. Modern, point-and-shoot digital cameras are a common device in many homes. Teens shoot pictures of their friends with cell phone cameras. Professional photographers use high resolution SLR cameras to take stunning photos. We can thank the dedication and experimentation of the early inventors mentioned above for the possibility of photography, which is such a common part of our lives today.