THE BOOM OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Karen Utter Jennings
Humans are visual beings. We like pictures to help illustrate what we are reading or listening to. When photography was born, it is no wonder that humans bought into the new invention. The first photographs our ancestors saw amazed them and they marveled over the detail the photographs captured.
The word photography means “light” and “to write.” The earliest cameras were actually boxes that used light to project images through a small hole onto surfaces. Rather than recording an image, they were projectors of light.
A French inventor, Niepce, made the first permanent photograph in 1825 and Louis Daguerre collaborated with him to refine the process. When Niepce died, Daguerre continued to experiment. In 1839, he developed photographic plates and discovered an image could be made permanent by immersing it in salt. You may recognize the name Daguerre, for his invention produced the type of photograph known as the daguerreotype.
Society first looked at the new photographic process as a threat to painting and drawing, but the interest outweighed the negativity. When our ancestors embraced photography, they liked its qualities. The demand for the new images spurred inventors to develop new and better ways to produce photographs.
An interesting fact I found is that in the 1850 US Federal Census, there are 938 males over the age of 15 listed with an occupation of daguerreotypist.
By 1840 William Henry Fox Talbert made the first paper print, called either a talbotype or a calotype. Those prints were produced from a waxed paper negative. Those images lacked sharpness and clarity. But it was the beginning of a wonderful way to capture people, places, events, and things on paper for posterity.
Ambrotypes appeared in the mid-1850s, but by 1860, the tintype method was the most popular images to own. The tintypes were more durable and could be carried in a pocket or sent through the mail to loved one.
I own three tintypes in my photograph collection. One is a small wallet size tintype of my great, great-grandfather, Thomas Nathaniel Johnson, who lived in Kings Valley, McDonald County. Another tintype is a large, 8x10 and the last is a 3 x 4 size cased image of a mother and daughter.
The above photo is Thomas Nathaniel Johnson, my paternal great, great-grandfather. Notice his tie has been hand-painted by the photographer. That was popular with tintypes.
After paper prints were invented, card photographs became popular; the paper print was mounted onto cardboard stock. Carte de viste, cabinet cards and stereographs are the three types of card photographs. I have many of these in my collection, also.
Through time, it became the goal of the early photographers to simply the process of photography. The large cameras and heavy equipment was a cumbersome task to undertake.
George Eastman, considered the father of photography, ushered in the age of candid photography with the slogan, “You push the button, we do the rest.” Eastman developed the roll film camera that anybody could operate and called it the Kodak camera.
The Kodak Company is instrumental in the age of photography. They marketed their cameras to women and I’m glad they did. My great-grandmother owned a camera at a very young age and it became one of her passions. Through that passion, today I have a wonderful photograph collection!
Cameras, film and photography has evolved into the digital wonders we enjoy today. But make no mistake; photography truly is an art form! I admire award-winning photographers, for there is nothing more breath taking than seeing a person or animal, place or event captured and saved to a paper print.
In coming posts, I will describe each of the types of photographs that has been listed. It is necessary to have an understanding of which types of photographs you may own, so you can identify and study them.
I hope you enjoy collecting old photographs as much as I do and better yet, I hope you use your camera and snap those pictures that tell your family story.