A Condensed History of UK Photography

Photographic processes began around the mid-1830s. This was the first time images of real life could be captured and shared. Prior to photography, paintings were the only medium to depict real life. A British inventor, by the name of Fox Talbot, achieved the first successful, efficient process for developing proper photographs. Though his first images were created without a camera, by the use of a paper coated with light-sensitive silver chloride, when exposed to sunlight would darken to expose a negative of the image captured. To create a natural and normal photo, or a positive, the tonal and spatial values had to be reversed. Later this process was improved which the industry adopted.


In the 1840s, Talbot began producing images (photogenic drawings) with a camera using short exposures that would develop an invisible “latent” photo that could be then be worked into a usable photo negative. This process was the first practical approach for photographs that made it possible to take portraits of subjects, despite its early flaws that were patented in 1841 as the calotype. Talbot’s process laid the groundwork for all photography printed onto paper until digitally produced photos became applicable.

Unfortunate for Talbot, a French scene painter, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, developed a similar technique a few years before Talbot that could develop properly, selling his technique to the French government in 1839. Within the same year, this technique had also reached England, stunting any possibility of Talbot’s method to blossom. Daguerre’s process became known as the daguerreotype, which flourished throughout Europe and soon the world.


On March 23rd 1841, the first studio in Europe was opened by Richard Beard at the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London. Beard has acquired the exclusive British licence for the American mirror camera as he set out to improve, by accelerating the exposure process. With the help of a chemist, John Frederick Goddard, they both set out to make drastic improvements, first by increasing light sensitivity of silver iodide with bromine vapours, while filtering out the excessively bright sunlight to allow exposure through blue glass. By doing this, they eased the eye strain of the person sitting for the portrait. They produced photos at 4 by 6 cm in size, which was a minor success in dialling in portraitures.


By the 1850s, Daguerreotyping became a prosperous industry throughout the globe. Talbot, discontent with this method, continued to improve upon his first process, stumbling onto Gallic acid during experimentation. The result of this tinkering became a new milestone in photography, as the time of exposure was reduced to one minute, versus the typical hour it took previously. With this improvement, Talbot’s calotype picked up momentum and began being widely used to produce exceptionally artistic photos.


In 1851, a newer type of photography began sprouting out as an immensely popular form, the stereoscopic photo. This was the process of taking a dual image of a subject mounted laterally that could be viewed through a specially formed stereoscope. The stereoscope had two eyepieces to look through, and the human brain would then stitch together these images into one 3-dimensional photo. David Brewster, a Scottish physicist, was the mind behind its immense popularity, as he improved upon the original invention that continued to popularise to what we now know as 3D.


More technological advances in photography began in the mid-1850s, such as the development of the wet collodion process, or glass negatives. This new process enabled photographers to easily produce paper prints from glass plates.


Initially, positive prints on paper made from glass plate negatives were done using Talbot’s calotype method, until in 1854 when André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, a French photographer, began utilising albumen paper as a new style of portrait. This new form gained attraction and became universally used by 1860. This style was known as carte-de-visite because its size was similar to that of a calling card. Disdéri utilised 4 lenses on his camera, producing 8 negatives on a single plate of glass, which allowed all the photos to be developed from 1 glass plate.


Additionally, this allowed one print that could also be cut into separate photos. Simply put, this new method allowed the first set of pictures with movement to be developed, as each picture of a single subject could depict a different pose.


This method also brought about the possibility of producing positive photos, which were underexposed negatives that appeared as positive when overlaid on a dark background, known as the ambrotype. A cheaper variation of this became briefly popular during the civil war, which used metal sheets in place of glass typically used, known as the tintype.


Eadweard Muybridge, an English photographer, began use of a multitude of cameras set side-by-side and broke off the shutters that were strung together with a thread as an object flew past. This experimentation was a new technique that enabled sequential photos that represented movement, or what would become the motion picture. Muybridge’s work with movement led to Étienne-Jules Marey, a French physiologist, came to develop chronophotography. Marey’s method used a single camera to capture detailed successive movements onto a single glass plate, whereas Muybridge’s method called for a barrage of cameras to record the very same movement.


As 1870 began, substitutes for wet collodion—the process of development—was being tested so that many glass plates could be prepared in advance this is of course way ahead of any nikon camera. By the next year in 1871, an English physician named Richard Leach Maddox began suspending silver bromide within a gelatin emulsion, which would eventually lead the industry to mass-produce dry plates.


A new era of photography emerged with that, the Kodak camera. Introduced to the world in 1888 by George Eastman, an American inventor, the ease in which users could take pictures accelerated, immensely booming the community of amateur photographers. The Kodak camera used a roll of flexible negative material in place of the glass plates that could produce up to 100 photos when developed. The following year, Eastman introduced the plastic-based film, nitrocellulose into his cameras, the all-familiar cylindrical roll of film which then sparked the first travel photography.

Trackbacks and pingbacks

No trackback or pingback available for this article.

Leave a reply