The first true photographs were created in France in 1827 by the physicist Nicéphore Niepce (1765–1833) and were called heliographs. It had been known for some time that some chemicals, such as silver chloride or silver iodide, were sensitive to light and Niepce made use of this. He exposed paper coated with silver chloride to make prints of images, but as he had no means of permanently fixing the prints the whole area of the treated paper would eventually darken. In 1824 he began to work with the inventor and painter Louis Daguerre (1789–1851), who produced images on silver plates that had been treated with silver iodide. These, however, were still impermanent.
The English physicist and inventor William Fox Talbot (1800–77) was responsible for the next step forward – establishing a method of fixing images. He did this by treating an exposed image with sodium chloride, which destroyed the light-sensitivity of the areas of silver iodide that had not taken the image, thus avoiding the gradual darkening of the whole surface. Daguerre used this process to make permanent photographs on silver plates, which became known as daguerrotypes.
Fox Talbot, meanwhile, evolved a different method, the calotype process, which used paper treated with silver iodide to create a negative. He fixed the image using sodium thiosulphite and used the negative to make prints.
It was in this era that photography began to impinge upon the wider public, especially in the field of portraiture. Rather than going through the long and expensive process of having a portrait painted, those who could afford it could now have a photograph taken in one sitting at the studio of a professional portrait photographer. People could now display, or carry around, perfect images of their families and loved ones.
In the 1840s and 1850s British and French inventors and photographers began to use glass plates to make negatives. The most popular method was to coat the glass plate with a light-sensitive substance suspended in collodion, a glutinous liquid made by dissolving pyroxylin in alcohol and ether. This type of wet negative had to be developed right away before the chemicals could dry out and this meant that immediate access to a darkroom was a prerequisite. Some enterprising photographers used mobile darkrooms, but it was only with the introduction of dry negatives in the 1870s that photography was released from the professional studio.
It was in 1889 that true mobility became possible for the photographer, when the US inventor George Eastman (1854–1932) produced film on a roll of cellulose nitrate, thus removing the need to carry around the heavy glass plates. This helped make smaller, cheaper cameras available for both the enthusiastic amateur and the world of business.
The idea of moving photographic images was also being explored in the late 19c. In 1872 the English-born US photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) took a sequence of photographs of a galloping horse using 24 cameras that were each triggered by the horse breaking a thread as it passed. This demonstrated the way in which an illusion of actual movement could be generated from a series of photographs taken quickly one after another and was, in essence, the idea behind cine-photography. It also, for the first time ever, established the way a horse's legs move as it gallops. Their speed had hitherto defied the human eye, as earlier paintings of horses in rapid motion show.
The first real moving-picture camera was patented in 1889 by the English photographer William Friese-Green (1855–1921), using strips of celluloid. Friese-Green was able to show his film by projecting it, but the first truly practical projector was invented in 1895 by another Englishman, Robert W Paul. In France the Lumière brothers invented the cinematograph, a combined camera, printer and projector in 1895, and began to show their films to the public. Cinema developed rapidly and soon became the predominant and universal form of 20c entertainment.
In the early 20c the use of photographs expanded away from portraiture and the world of art, and found ever more applications, especially in journalism, where their immediacy and truth-to-life were ideal, and in advertising. In World War I photographs from the front brought the conditions of modern war home to the public as in no previous conflict.
Most photography was still based on the black-and-white image, but pioneering work in colour photography had been carried out by the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831–79). The Lumière brothers experimented with a colour process and colour images were being produced by a complicated multi-exposure technique by the turn of the century. By the 1930s colour film and transparencies were introduced.
The trend in cameras continued towards ever smaller, hence more portable, and cheaper varieties that could be mass-produced. On the technical side, great advances were made in the manufacture and use of specialized lenses, such as magnifying lenses and telephoto lenses, and in flash photography.
After World War II photography became one of the most popular hobbies and spread throughout society, even if only at the level of annual holiday snaps. One major innovation was the invention of a camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, that could produce an instant print without the need of an external developing process. Scientific applications continued to be found and special techniques evolved, such as infrared and ultraviolet photography, and the diagnostic use of X-ray photography in medicine. Specially designed cameras were made for use underwater, and photography followed humankind's ventures into space and onto the moon.
As movie cameras followed the trend in still cameras to become smaller and less expensive, more and more members of the public were able to acquire them and ‘home movies’ of holidays and special occasions became common. This type of camera was superseded in the 1980s, however, with the popularization of video. Commercial filming by recording images directly onto video cassette tapes, with no processing of film required, was cheaper and easier than using film cameras and the television industry was quick to exploit the new technology. The mass availability of home video cassette recorders (VCRs) was soon followed by portable VCRs or camcorders. The advent of digital cameras and camcorders allowed users to share pictures easily with family and friends using computer technology and the Internet, making the filming of life's events an everyday pastime.
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