From silver to digital, a ‘photographic film’ story

By Sergio González | 11:57
retro cameras

Oh, lovely retro cameras…

We are used to forcing our minds to remember that it wasn’t Berninni but Michelangelo who sculpted that madonna and that Mr. Bell invented the telephone, though it’s not as useful or accurate as you might think.

The invention of the telephone is officially attributed to Antonio Meucci since 2002 and sculptors designed their creations but hardly ever carved them themselves. Truth is few  inventions can be credited to just one single person, and photography and every filming that came afterwards fits into human cooperative mood.

Thomas Wedgwood (1771-1805) is credited for creating the first camera and permanent images. As a child he soon got engaged into arts, becoming friends with prominent artists of his time and as son of a rich pottery English manufacturer he was able to be a patron for them. But Thomas was also very interested in education and learning; those were the times when the Enlightenment was mature in Europe and many voices raised demanding education for everybody.

Wedgwood studied how children learn new information and how it’s better absorbed by the brain when it is displayed visually so he started working. He conducted tons of experiments and tests using pottery, paper and white leather as printing media but his success was relative. He could only print object’s silhouettes by direct contact or glass paintings through sunlight exposure.

Advised by some chemists -who were rediscovering Middle Ages alchemy at that time- he applied a coat of silver nitrate to the paper and boom, photography is discovered. Thomas created a repeatable method of chemically printing an object on paper by exposing it to natural light and then preserving it in a dark room. He succeed in providing teachers a powerful tool, just as Gutenberg did with movable type printing in the 15th century.

Thomas soon passed away but not his invention, that traveled to the Parisian workshop of Nicéphore Niépce. He faced the same problem Thomas did: papers darkened when exposed again to light for viewing. He went silver chloride but his repeated fails led him to use bitumen and he succeed, though his photographs could only be printed in tin.

His colleague Daguerre -known for daguerreotypes, a kind of photography he invented- continued Niépces work when he died. Daguerre when back to silver -it’s a pretty good conductor even when it’s tarnished- but tried silver iodide this time. He also discovered that mercury fumes shorten dark room hours. He’s acknowledged for creating the first photographic process.

Camera van

Camera van, as only in Texas

From then on, a race began to improve every single part of the process, creating new chemical formulas and new ways to print and clean photographs. Many versions appeared during 19th century and their inventors were pretty shy to share and legally protective of them.

Herbert B. Berkerley’s formula with benzene, sulfite and acid citric was the most successful and the first one to be marketed, London 1881. Photography became one of the triumphs of Industrial Revolution society and a self-pic a must-have on the living-room for visits to check out our coolness. Experiments with color were long tried but it was not until 1907 that a commercial version was available in stores.

The next big leap was digital, which we know way better cos’ we’re living it. Then again, tons of different persons’ grey matter and enthusiasm were needed to get a digital photography and camera. The revolution of digital photography -the ability to capture images with electronic photosensors (CCD) and digitalize them into computer files- was Bell Labs invention but Kodak was the first one to create a digital camera prototype in 1975; astounding 0,01 megapixels. The first real one was designed by Fuji in 1988 with 16 MB of memory though Logitech marketed the first one in 1990, Dycam 1. Bye bye to dear photographic film.

Photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography

Photo credit: Plutor


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