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The Birth of Photography, a True Story of Genius and Rivalry

by Roger Watson ; Helen Rappaport

Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-00970-8
Publisher: St. Martin's

Watson, the curator of the Fox Talbot Museum, and historian Rappaport (A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy, 2013, etc.) develop the intricate history of photography.

The appropriate hardware was, of course, known from antiquity in the form of the camera obscura. What wasn’t accomplished until the 19th century was the fixing of the evanescent image projected in the back of that simple box. “Such is human inventiveness,” write the authors, “that it was not long in the new…century before some of those who looked at the images in the camera obscura began wondering whether they could push the boundaries of its use.” Many devoted amateurs worked assiduously on the challenge to capture the light with chemical solutions on paper or on metal. Some worked alone; others shared their results. Among the researchers were Francois Arago, Tom Wedgwood and Alphonse Hubert. In Paris, the inventor Nicéphore Niépce produced negative images but never thought to print positives from them. Then, in 1839, Niépce’s former partner, the scenic artist and showman Louis Daguerre (1787–1851) displayed to an amazed world portraits and pictures of street scenes made by nature itself. The Daguerreotype was a sensation. By then, across the Channel, English polymath Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) had devised the calotype process and a way to utilize a negative to produce multiple images on paper; he had not announced it with fanfare. First conceived of as a tool for artists and scientists, by the second half of the century, photography became a popular craze, especially in the United States. For Daguerre and Talbot, many honors, and patent disputes, followed. Then came tintypes, cartes de visite and stereopticons. Photojournalism pursued war and politics. Improvements in commercial printing and color processes promoted photography. Today, snapshots of Martian landscapes are commonplace.

An unbiased, worthwhile recollection of the marvelous invention of photography.