I was reminiscing the other day about pictures I’ve taken and just photography in general, which has been around for almost 200 years, depending on how you define it. I’ve always been interested in it and have at one time or another dabbled in just about everything, but I certainly don’t claim to be an expert but here’s my take on it.. I collected 3D cameras for a while (and wrote about them), and I even collected a little of the really early stuff so maybe that’s a good place to start.
The oldest picture I ever had was a daguerrotype, which is generally considered to mark the beginnings of photography. Invented in 1839, it was the only choice for a decade or so, but was pretty much left behind by other types that were not as limited. Daguerreotypes are made by chemical action on a polished, silver-plated plate, and are amazing. . . . it’s almost like looking at a mirror and seeing the subject come to life.
But it was slow and expensive and just produced a single image. By the 1850s it was giving way to glass-backed ambrotypes and similar kinds, which were easier and cheaper to make but still just made one image. I had an ambrotype that had a date of 1853 written on it, and that’s about when they began getting popular.
Tintypes came along next and had some advantages. They were not actually made of tin, but iron sheeting that was cheaper to work with, and even though they still just made one image, they discovered ways to make multiples. They could make a dozen or so identical pictures on one large sheet and then cut them apart with tin snips. Now everybody could afford pictures. It was really popular during the Civil War and there are lots of them floating around in antique shops and flea markets even now. That’s how I picked up several of them. You can still see the sharp snipped edges.
Throughout the mid and late 1800s, a lot of people were working to try for something better, using chemicals and treated paper. The development of albumin paper was key to the process, which involved glass plate negatives that could be used to print multiple pictures. Matthew Brady and several assistants fanned out across Civil War battlegrounds and brought the public a realistic look of the aftermath, often with stereoviews. But a revolution in photography was coming.
George Eastman is generally considered to be the father of modern photography with his Kodak camera, which allowed the average person to take pictures, rather than a professional. His camera was filled with film and once you had used them up you sent the whole thing in. They’d develop your pictures, refill it with fresh film, and send the whole kit and kaboodle back to you. Not bad but with obvious drawbacks, paving the way for a simple but revolutionary step that occurred in 1900.
The Kodak Brownie was maybe single-most successful camera in history in bringing photography to just about everybody. It was small, inexpensive, and easy to use. Here’s an article and video that explains it better than I could.
I’m going to sort of skip through the modern history of photography because most of our readers are pretty familiar with the newer things. Besides, this is getting long and I’m getting pooped.
Cameras and film continued to evolve through the years, led by Kodak, although competitors soon began to make inroads. Probably the most significant event was when Edwin Land brought out his Polaroid instant camera in 1948. It was expensive to buy and to use, but it wowed those who could afford it. It enjoyed many years of success but inevitably Kodak decided to challenge the patents, bringing out their own instant camera. A huge ten-year lawsuit followed, with Polaroid coming out on top and Kodak getting out of th instant camera business,
By the 2000’s both companies had been through bankruptcies and reinvented themselves, victim to the digital age.