Facts of the Matter – Photography
View from His Window at Le Gras. By Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
In the 1820s, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce focused light onto a plate of highly polished pewter covered with a form of asphalt. After an eight-hour exposure, he washed the plate with oil of lavender and turpentine, producing the first heliograph, or photograph, “View from His Window at Le Gras.”
- Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre captured images on a silver-plated sheet of copper in 1837. The result, a daguerreotype, was hailed as “the mirror with a memory.” On a bright day, an exposure took 10 to 20 minutes – a time frame more suitable for buildings and landscapes than portraits.
- Improved lenses and better chemical processes cut exposure times to four minutes, then to 25 seconds. Portrait galleries opened in major cities, some taking as many as 1,000 portraits a day. In a single year – 1855 – in Massachusetts, USA, 403,626 daguerreotypes were produced.
- In 1850, photographers made prints from glass negatives onto paper coated with egg whites, or albumen. A company in Dresden, Germany, used 60,000 eggs a day to meet demand. Albumen print companies sold millions of pictures of tourist sites, the precursor of postcards.
- Sir David Brewster invented a stereograph viewer in 1849 that duplicated human stereoscopic vision. By 1862, the London Stereoscopic Company had sold a million stereographs.
- Mathew Brady, a New York City portrait photographer, organized a corps of 23 photographers in 1861 to cover the U.S. Civil War. They captured over 10,000 images on glass plates.
- In 1869, Eadweard Muybridge invented a shutter that stopped action at 1/500th of a second. Nine years later, he used 12 cameras to capture images of a galloping horse. In 1880, he projected his pictures onto a screen at the California School of Fine Arts. Motion pictures were born.
- After the Civil War, government-sponsored photographers took pictures of the American West, which helped persuade Congress to create the National Park System. In 1935, the federal government hired 13 photographers to document rural Americans in the Dust Bowl. By 1943, the Farm Security Administration team had taken 270,000 photos, now housed in the Library of Congress.
- George Eastman built a simple, inexpensive camera for the average person. When it debuted in 1900, the Kodak Brownie cost US$1, and rolls of film were 15 cents. Kodak sold more than 150,000 cameras in its first year, and more than 2.5 million by 1921.
- On 20 July 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts used a specially constructed Hasselblad camera to take photos on the surface of the moon. By 1972, a dozen cameras had been left behind on the moon to save weight for astronauts’ trips home.
- A Kodak engineer invented the world’s first digital camera in 1975. It weighed more than 8 pounds. Today, people take an estimated 3,000 pictures every second.