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History of Photography

Photography has existed for far longer than most people are aware; in fact Greek philosophers such as Aristotle would describe using pinhole cameras as far back as the 4th and 5th centuries BCE. The discovery of true "photography" cannot be accredited to any one individual, rather it is the amalgamation of a variety of technologies and techniques that took place over hundreds of years. The first pivotal moment in photography occurred when Ibn al-Haytham spent time studying the camera obscura and pinhole techniques. Later Albertus Magnus discovered silver nitrate, a vital facet in historic photography, along with silver chloride (discovered by Georges Fabricius some three hundred years later). Slowly the parts were beginning to fall into place.

It was not until the diaphragm was first described in 1568 by Daniel Barbaro, the photochemical effect was discovered by Wilhelm Homberg in 1694 and Tiphaigne de la Roche described the actual photographic technique in Giphantie that photography cannot truly be considered to have been born. In 1822 French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niepce created the first permanent photograph on a pewter place covered with bitumen of Judea (a derivative of petroleum). After the materials coating the plate were washed away and the plate was polished a negative image was the result, this was then inked and pressed on paper. Niepce worked hard to refine his technique but died in 1833 without ever seeing his hard work come to fruition.

Fortunately Niepce had left his research to Louis Daguerre who made a number of critical breakthroughs in photography relating to the use of silver compounds and their reaction to light. Daguerre's research culminated in what he called the "Daguerreotype", a new photographic process that utilised silver set on a copper plate. This was immediately purchased by the French government and entered the mainstream consciousness. Unknown to Daguerre the painter Hercules Florence had already developed a similar process in 1832 that he called "Photographie", and inventor Fox Talbot read up on Daguerre's work and developed his own technique. In the process of doing so he made great strides in fixing technology after working with astronomer John Herschel, who himself would go on to make the first glass negative.

Experimentation with photographic techniques became mainstream and many new technologies and techniques were invented in a relatively short space of time. Some were adopted, some fell by the wayside, and others became the victims of some furious legal battles over copyright infringement. It was not until the industrial revolution that photography became a mainstream concept; until then it had always been considered something of a flight of fancy with no practical benefits. The industrial revolution brought with it great upheaval and a desire to embrace new technology, and with a serious increasing demand for portraits many turned to photography to fill the void left by expensive oil painting portraits.

It took a further series of improvements to existing techniques to cement the reputation of photography as both a business and a hobby. George Eastman developed film that could be used to replace photographic plates, this freed up the photographer to be much more mobile. Eastman marketed the first Kodak camera on the market and this proved to be a pivotal moment, now anyone could take a photograph by simply pressing a button and leaving others to do the developing. The Kodak Brownie camera was launched to the masses in 1901 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Up until the rise of digital photography surprisingly little had changed with the industry since Leica standardised the 35mm format in 1925. Even though the first digitally scanned image was produced in the 1950's the technique never caught up as a mainstream photographic technique until very recently, as the race to develop photographic consisted of many technologies and techniques so too did the breakthrough in digital cameras. Home computing technology had to catch up, as did the quality and affordability of home printing equipment. Digital cameras also had to develop in terms of sensors, early models were very poor quality compared to standard 35mm wet film cameras that cost a tenth of the price. Once technology had improved and cost had come down however digital technology provided us with the second photographic revolution since the Kodak Brownie in 1901.