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Monday, 18 November 2013


There was a very nice outline of the early history of photography in the first episode "Fixing The Shadows" of the six-episode TV documentary The Genius Of Photography by BBC Four in 2005. It used to be possible to see these episodes on YouTube but obviously not anymore, as far as I can tell :-(

Is this your way of telling us that you'll be taking next week off to write said book? Fine by me! Looking forward to the Amazon affiliate link.

A Brief History of Photography — Its Birth and Early Years.
by Michael T.O.P. Johnston

How about "A New History of Photography" edited by Michel Frizot ?
published 1994 for the French edition by Bordas and 1998 for the English-language edition by Könemann.

Hi Mike,
If you haven't read "The Origins of Photography" by Helmut Gernsheim, it might suit your needs for something that I believe is reasonably balanced, well-detailed and copiously illustrated. It briefly introduces the early ("prehistory") efforts related to invention of a photographic process, but begins in earnest with description of work by Niecephore Niepce, and ultimately Daguerre and Fox-Talbot (developments until about 1857 are covered). The book's photo-illustrations are an interesting effort to convey a resemblance to silvered daguerreian plates and warm calotypes by printing with reflective-silver and sepia toning, respectively.

Funny, I thought I had too many books on the history of photography, including: John Szarkowski's Photography Until Now; Beaumont Newhall's The History of Photography; Helmut and Alison Gernsheim's The History of Photography; and, Naomi Rosenblum's A World History of Photography. And more.

I'm curious about your view on the respective 'faults' among these. The latter two are clearly very long, but the first two are more concise.

It's hard to imagine anything improving on "History of Photography", by Josef Maria Eder, translated by Edward Epstean. The 1945 edition was reprinted in softcover in 1978 and widely available. It's a great read. Eder was one of the seminal photographic pioneers. Among many other things, he invented the orthochromatic emulsion.

Gisele Freud's Photography & Society is a straightforward historical account about the first years of photography. It's out of print but it's easy to find second hand English translation. A very interesting French perspective of the history of photography for anglophones too.

It's only downside is it's classic French intellectual writing style with a post-WW2 leftist viewpoint. You have to ignore the ideology sometimes but that doesn't get in the way of the history.

One observation after reading Photography & Society is that photography does seem to repeat its own history on a regular basis when technology changes. One can see most of the current "digital issue" have already happened before in the 19th century.

Photography & Society was also mentioned in a previous TOP column on photography books on Mike's bedside table.

While Daguerre is often given a large share of the credit for "inventing photography", it is actually rather hard to give anyone the lion's share. Photography had a large number of parents.

Daguerre does deserve credit for perfecting the first commercially practical process but by no means did he create the first permanent photographs. It should be remembered that Henry Fox-Talbot was already quite successfully creating excellent permanent images and had been for several years during the same time that Daguerre was beginning to be successful. Also, it should be noted that Daguerre's independent experiments hadn't proved very successful. It wasn't until he partnered with Nicéphore Niépce that he produced reliable results and that partnership didn't begin until three years after Niépce had created the first permanent photograph. See: http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/firstphotograph/

I still recommend A history of photography written as a practical guide and an introduction to its latest developments by W. Jerome Harrison ( https://archive.org/details/historyofphotogr1887harr ) as a good unbiased history of photography's early years. The Archive.Org link is to a PDF of the original Scovill Co. printing.

Well, I say congrats to one of the men who made it all possible. Without him, I wouldn't be here today--and I'd have a lot more money in the bank...

Thanks for the info regarding his birthday. That induced me to take a look at his Wiki-Bio and I was struck by the quote "I have seized the light...I have arrested its flight" attributed to him. Also interesting in the bio was his diorama theaters (the forerunner of movie theaters?), which at this late hour I don't fully comprehend from the wiki wording exactly how he executed, but it appears he was interested in entertaining people. As for his posing for that image, I'll bet he was a man who ironically didn't like to sit still for long. His facial expression looks very familiar to me, it seems to me he is thinking "hurry up and take the d....n picture!

Jeff Curto offers a set of free podcasts that cover his class lectures on the history of photography at the College of DuPage.


They filled in quite a bit of detail that I was lacking in the early development of photography.

Roger Cicala of Lensrentals.com has been working through the history of photography in a series of posts. It's not finished, and it's not a book, but it's worth the read.

I'd just like to see a nice, graphic timeline, from the camera obscura to Kodak — comprehensive, and nicely illustrated of course.

Not only among the first, but the existing daguerreotypes just SING!

Not an expert by any stretch, but I just posted an article to the Lake County Camera Club newsletter detailing the daguerreotype development and process as part of a history of photography series.


My series is based on the excellent work of Jeff Curto's History of Photography course, mentioned in an earlier message, and highly recommended.

Hey, look up there, a Freundian slip!



Niepce and Fox-Talbot meet up at a bar and start talking shop... the drinks roll and soon enough they're having a full blown gloom and doom rant session about the state of photography and how young upstarts like Daguerre are ruining things, undercutting the masters, making everything too darn easy for the unappreciative masses.

The tradition continues....


It wasn't Daguerre that upset the economics of the early artist-photographers (expensive but very good portraits by the like of Nadar) but André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri


In 1854 Disdéri invented the carte de visite and reduced the cost of producing portraits by more than a factor of 5 to 50 times. It was the first major economic deflationary change in commercial photography.

Disdéri would take 12 shots on a single plate at a sitting and they could reproduced as a 6x9 centimeter print (a vertical 3:2 format). He charged 20 francs for 12 photographs. Previously a single (larger) print would have cost 50 to 100 francs.

He brought portrait photography to the middle class. Especially after he did a series of carte de visite for Emperor Napoleon III he started of a craze for carte de visite that spread across Europe.

Nadar said "It spelled disaster. Either you had to succumb - that is to say, follow the trend - or resign." Nadar did produce carte de visite portraits in addition to conventional larger portraits but several of the early artist-photographer dropped out.

Disdéri made a fortune then lost it. It turned out lots of people could make carte de visite even cheaper than him when his patent expired. He died penniless.

In this story is pretty much the story of every major economic change in photography since.

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