Writing the history of photography is not simple. No single history of photography exists. There are many. Preus Museum's version takes its starting point, of course, in the museum's collections. Thus something will be missing, while other elements will seem unduly detailed.
What had been written about art became the first model for composing the history of photography. One should discuss the most important photographers, stylistic directions and schools. The earliest authors (Josef Maria Eder, Raymond L?cuyer and, to a certain extent, Helmut and Alison Gernsheim) focused on technique and processes. Those elements seemed original and exciting to them. But technology was toned down as one increasingly understood that the photographer was decisive in how the photograph appeared.
Modernist histories of photography by such writers as Nancy and Beaumont Newhall focus primarily on American photographers and directions in esthetic style. John Szarkowski, head of the photography division at the Museum of Modern Art in New York 1962-91, was one of the most important exponents of formalism, in which it was essential to define what characterized photography in contrast to other forms of visual art.
In postmodern examination of photography, however, more emphasis has been on the contexts in which photographs have existed or may have been used. Photography has no individual identity or is, first and foremost, part of a larger context (Alan Sekula, Abigail Solomon-Godeau). The 150th anniversary of photography in 1989 set in motion a series of historical examinations and publications in countries other than the U.S.A. The most comprehensive historical study coming from the anniversary may well be the French "new" history edited by Michel Frizot. It focuses both on the photograph as physical material and on various modes of practice within the many fields photography touches.
In Norway an examination of the country's photographic legacy began in earnest in the 1990s. Since 2000 no fewer than four books have attempted to describe larger or smaller elements in the history of Norwegian photography (Roger Erlandsen, Jorunn Veiteberg [ed.], Peter Larsen/Sigrid Lien and Cecilie Malm Brundtland). Today digital technology has overtaken and nearly supplanted analog photographic processes. This requires new ways of writing histories of the medium to reveal new methods and prevent the disappearance of understanding of older physical materials and processes.
1 The person in focus
From the beginning, portraits have been the most important motivic sphere for photography. Before photography there were only sculptures or paintings of men of power or the church, along with heroic female personages, in public spaces. Photographic processes allowed more people to obtain pictures of themselves. With improved economic circumstances across the 1800s, the portrait became democratized.
Toward the end of the 1840s portrait photography was fully under way. Three important improvements around the 1860s led to the popular visiting-card portraiture most people had the means to obtain: albumin paper, the collodion wet-plate negative on glass and the possibility of taking several pictures on one plate.
At first portrait photographers shot outdoors or in studios with skylights that let in the summer sun. There were early experiments with artificial light, and toward the end of the 19th century one could choose between several kinds of sources of artificial lighting.
After 1900 studio props became outdated, and photographers focused more tightly on people themselves or photographed them out in their normal surroundings. Portrait
photographers of the period typically used neutral backdrops and light settings to give life to a portrait.
Portraits do not reveal how people are, but how they wish to be seen. The photographic portrait is characteristically a picturing of a person or group of people in unusual and staged surroundings. Several things are involved: surroundings marked by the photographer's knowledge, conventions of portraiture, styles of the time and circumstances of the shooting.
Is it a wedding or confirmation portrait; an official portrait that will hang on a wall in a civic building, a firm or a school; a portrait that will be given to a loved one who will travel away by sea or in warfare; or is it merely a result of a wish to have a picture of oneself? All of this and much more defines what the portrait becomes.
2 The picture before the photograph
Photography presupposes a camera and a light-sensitive material which is lastingly altered by the action of light. In analog photography the image must be preserved
through chemical processing. The camera builds on the principle of "camera obscura",
a dark room with a small opening in one wall.
On the opposite wall, inside the room, a picture appears of what is outside projected upside down. The principle has been understood since ancient times. Starting in the Renaissance one finds portable versions of the camera obscura. Later a convex lens was placed in the opening. This increased the strength of the light and the sharpness of the image. Thus the camera was developed.
Light-sensitive material came with the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839. The name comes from the French inventor, Louis-Jacques Mand? Daguerre (1787-1851). His device was widely circulated in Europe and America. It was based on the use of a highly polished, silvered copperplate. Photographs emerged as sharp, richly detailed positives in black and white. Only one copy of each photograph existed.
Positive and negative sides
The daguerreotype could effectively reproduce details, but it could not yield multiple copies. Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) had experimented since the mid-1830s with making contact copies of lace and leaves on paper treated with silver
chloride. The pictures appeared as negatives. Talbot succeeded in fixing the images so that they became durable.
He also experimented with light-sensitive paper in small cameras, or "mouse traps". These produced negatives; he made contact copies that were fixed and durable positives. The negative/positive process was now fact. He improved light sensitivity with silver iodide and called the process calotype. It was simpler to manage than the daguerreotype process and became widely adopted by amateur photographers.
Gradually paper in the negative was replaced by glass. Frederick Scott Archer (1813-57) established the use of collodion on glass, and photography entered what has been called the wet-plate period. At this time photography took place outdoors to obtain enough light. Negatives had to be prepared and developed in connection with the exposure, so the photographer needed to bring chemicals and a darkroom tent.
From wet and dry to round and round
Daguerreotype plates and the calotype process disappeared from the market at the beginning of the 1860s. Wet plates had won out. Simultaneously experiments started with dry plates, which did not require immediate darkroom exposure. Then in the mid-1870s came dry plates with gel. Thus factory developing of negative and positive photographic materials was a reality.
Ready-made glass plates and paper could be bought in stores. Glass-plate negatives had competition from roll paper film produced by George Eastman (1854-1932). This was replaced by Eastman's transparent celluloid roll film; it fit his Kodak cameras. The year was 1888, and amateur photography was in its infancy.
3 Small pictures for the large masses
The glass-plate negative and roll film were used side by side for several decades. At the turn of the century motion-picture film also arrived. It used Eastman's 70 mm celluloid film split in the middle, which yielded the 35 mm format. The small photo camera was designed for this film. The little handheld camera received enormous distribution, from the Leica camera's introduction in 1925 to the Japanese SLR-reflex cameras that came on the market after World War II.
In the same time period the twin-lens or "two-eyed" reflex camera was in broad circulation. It had a larger negative format that enabled wider use. The principle of one lens for focusing and one for photographing was already understood and in use in the 1860s, but greater circulation came with the Rollei cameras at the end of the 1920s.
Medium-format cameras are built on the same principles as the SLR-reflex camera for small-picture film, but with a negative format resembling that of twin-eyed cameras. One of the most meaningful and groundbreaking models was produced by the Swedish firm Hasselblad and arrived on the market at the end of the 1940s. This camera used 120 film with a 6x6 cm negative, and it had an interchangeable magazine?meaning that in the middle of a roll of film one could shift to a dissimilar type of film in the same camera. The principle of removable magazines was later used by a series of camera makers.
From silver to pixels
Between the world wars the European camera market was covered by European and American models. Brands such as Kodak, Zeiss, Leica and Voigtl?nder led among professionals and amateurs. Large studio cameras were usually equipped with European optics. That changed when Japanese SLR-reflex cameras were introduced on the European market at the beginning of the 1960s.
35 mm film for small pictures was dominant in SLR-reflex cameras and a good portion of other simpler amateur cameras. In addition came such new entries as the Kodak Instamatic pocket camera in the early 1970s. These diminutive cameras used 16 mm film, called 110. At the end of the 1980s the digital amateur camera came into mass production.
In the digital camera it is not grains of silver that register light, but millions of sensors in a picture chip, where light energy is converted to electricity, then to numerical values stored in a digital medium such as a camera's memory chip. These numerical values produce the digital picture.
Picture chips with small sensors are used in compact cameras. Sensors with larger surfaces require larger cameras but also give higher technical quality to pictures, since a larger area registers light more effectively. The same effect is produced by medium- or large-format cameras: a larger negative surface contains more information and thus gives better technical quality. The picture can be enlarged to a substantial dimension without the grain structure becoming apparent.
4 Panoramic cameras
Normal cameras have a picture angle of 40-50?. The need for a larger angle was met earlier by using several photographs placed or copied together in a panoramic picture. This was satisfactory for stationary motifs. For more advanced shots special equipment was required: panoramic cameras.
One type had rotating lenses and stationary film. In another the camera itself rotated against the internal rotation of the film. The rotational speed and the timing of the exposure could be regulated, and some cameras could turn the entire circle round, the entire 360?. As early as 1844, a panoramic camera was designed with a revolving lens calculated for daguerreotype photography. The receiving plate was bowed, a form of construction later used in the wet-plate period with bowed glass-plate negatives.
Cameras as weapons
Photographic equipment formed as or hidden in objects resembling firearms has a long history. The cameras used the kinds of film available at the time: glass-plate negatives, roll film and ready-made ferrotype positives. Ferrotype cameras were often employed at popular tourist locales during the period from the beginning of the twentieth century to the years between the world wars. In this connection the cameras were frequently shaped like a table cannon. Tourists were photographed on the spot and received their finished ferrotype pictures immediately. The pictures were formed like modern "buttons".
Early photo-rifles used round glass-plate negatives. Photo-rifles took a form based on what was known of the sighting function on firearms. At this time photographic viewfinders were not particularly well-developed. In addition, the rifle stock provided good support during the photographing. Cameras shaped like machine-guns were used in training those using machine-guns during the First World War and in the period between the world wars.
In the 1880s glass-plate negatives were the most common form of negative on the market. The disadvantages of this material were chiefly its weight and the possibility the glass could be broken. Experiments with paper negatives started as early as the 1840s with Fox Talbot's calotype process, and such material first gained a foothold in the market with George Eastman's paper negatives and William Walker's roll holder, both first selling in 1885.
Three years later, in 1888, the first Kodak camera appeared. It was equipped with Eastman's roll film with room for 100 pictures. The camera was returned to the factory when the film was exposed. There the film was developed and copied, new film loaded, and all of it shipped back to the photographer. Gradually a host of varied camera types and models were produced by Kodak. The company sought to make photography accessible to all and emphasized simple, inexpensive cameras that could even be used by children. Many of these models belonged to the category called box cameras, a straightforward model still in production long after World War II.
6 Stereo cameras
The photograph in its basic form is in two dimensions and lacks the third: the experience of depth. As early as the period of daguerreotypes there were experiments with stereo photography. With the use of two shots where the camera is moved the appropriate distance between eyes, then with the two photographs seen in specially constructed viewers, the three-dimensional experience of the photograph was created.
The first special camera for stereo photography, with two fixed lenses, was built by the English optician John Benjamin Dancer (1812-87) and patented in 1856. Fascination with this three-dimensional photography has lasted all the way until now. Many of the camera models were produced across several decades. The Richard Verascope, a French version, was introduced in 1894 and sold as late as the 1930s. With simple and inexpensive stereo viewers, such photography became property of the common people. One could buy series of pictures from exotic places or the front lines in World War I.
Espionage and miniature cameras
Miniature cameras have followed the development of photography from early on. As part of his experiments Fox Talbot succeeded in making a camera in 1835 with a negative of ca. 25x25 mm, and Carl August von Steinheil (1801-70) produced a brass daguerreotype camera in 1839 with a picture format of 8x10 mm. Nevertheless it was first with dry plates and roll film that wide circulation of these cameras occurred.
In the wet-plate period photographic equipment was so extensive and heavy that small, light cameras had no purpose, but in the 1880s several series-produced types arrived. One of the first was English, the Marion Metal Miniature, introduced in 1884. With increased use of roll film many other miniature cameras gradually reached the market. The introduction of 16 and 9.5 mm film in the first half of the 1920s lay the groundwork for the espionage and miniature cameras we know from the Second World War and demands of later espionage. From Japan came the so-called Hit miniature camera in the 1950s in a host of variations. All had 17.5 mm roll film and 14x14 mm negatives.
Ever since the pioneering era of photography, attempts have been made to develop and fix film material inside the camera in connection with the act of photographing. Fox Talbot describes such a proposal in one of his notebooks as early as 1839. Cameras with "built-in" darkrooms for manual treatment of plates were constructed in 1853 and marketed.
In 1862 in Norway Olaus Kr?ger Holck (1820-76) received patents on three cameras with built-in developing capability. At the beginning of the 1900s dry ferrotype plates came into use, and all the "cannon photographers" appear who took pictures of tourists with ferrotype cameras that produced finished pictures on the spot.
Even so it was first in the 1940s that a completely satisfactory method for making photographs in a moment was developed by the American scientist Edwin Herbert Land (1909-91). The first Polaroid Land model 95 was marketed in America in 1948. A minute after exposure the film pack could be opened and the photograph seen. By the beginning of 1956 a million Polaroid Land cameras had been sold. Polaroid film also gradually began to be used in special packs for the back of medium-format and sheet-film cameras of professional technical photographers.
"Maxwell's first demonstration of color photography 17 May 1861 was based on the additive color process. That is, one took three black-and-white photographs of the same motif through red, green and blue filters. Then black-and-white slides were made of the photos. These finally were projected in juxtaposition on a screen through the same three color filters. Thus all color nuances appeared." [Leif Preus in Fotocolor 2004.]
Modern color photographs do not, of course, require special cameras. Either it is the choice of film that determines whether pictures are in black and white or color, or it is the adjustment of a digital camera. Thus these three-color cameras occupy an entirely special part of the history of the development of photographic equipment. That history is represented here with two central camera creations: the 1899 Melanochromoscope by Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron (1837-1920), a camera that could also be used as a viewer; and the American Lerochrome One Shot Camera from the last half of the 1930s. Here one may clearly see the three film cassettes marked red, green and blue as all were lit in the same exposure. Many producers of one-shot three-color cameras used the same construction as in this camera.