Before Photography

by Jerry Burchfield, The Great Picture in Hangar #115 El Toro Marine Corps Base, Irvine, CA, 2006.











Photography = light writing
Three things needed to create a photograph:
Optical device that can control light
Chemical process that can reproduce the effects of light on a surface
Chemical process that can fix light (the image) permanently
Eventually, a means of producing multiples of the image becomes desirable
Sunlight Through Trees at Dawn, 2006











3. The Chemical Fix


Portrait of Joseph Nicephore Niepce











lithographic negative and positive print


The Lithographic Process











Niepce produces first "heliographs"
Images quickly disappear because the light sensitivity of his chemicals is never stopped
Niepce discovers that bitumen of judea bleaches and hardens when exposed to light (light sensitivity stops because the substance hardens)
bitumen of Judea = form of asphalt, used by etchers to coat metal plates before drawing upon them with a stylus
Niepce makes paper of a lithographic print transparent by coating with oil
Places semi-transparent print onto glass plate coated with bitumen of judea
Laid the plate in sun for several hours
Creating permanent image transfer using light











Bitumen of Judea











Isaac Briot, Portrait of Cardinal d'Amboise,
c. 1650.  Engraving
Nicephore Niepce, Copy of Engraving of
Cardinal d'Amboise, 1826. Heliograph.











1826 Niepce begins experimenting with pewter plates

Coated pewter plate with bitumen of judea
Placed plate inside camera obscura sitting on a window sill
Estimated exposure time of 8 to 10 hours,
possibly as long as 20 hours





















Joseph Nicephore Niepce, View from His Window at Le Gras,
c. 1826. Heliograph.
Re-photographed with silver gelatin in the 1950s.



Niepce's original image










Enter Daguerre...


Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre











Daguerre's diorama











1829 Daguerre and Niepce agree to share all knowledge, honor and profit from their collaborative invention

silver nitrate

Silver Nitrate

1831 Daguerre discovered that silver iodide was more light sensitive than silver nitrate
1833 Niepece died of a stroke
1834 Daguerre experiments with new process using silver iodide
Used professional camera with quality lens
Used silver-plated sheet of copper sensitized with silver iodide
Reduced exposure time to 20 to 30 minutes
1835 - 1839 Daguerre succeeds in permanently fixing an image











In 1839 Sir John Frederick William Herschel provides the final element necessary when he discovers that hyposulphite of soda will arrest the action of light, making photographic images permanent. His research is read to the Royal Academy in 1839.

Sir John Frederick William Herschel

Develops chemical recipe for 'hypo', which stops silver salts reacting with light, thereby fixing the image permanently
Hyposulphite of soda acts as a fixer, removing unexposed silver halide, and therefore preventing any further reaction to light
Later coins the term photography = light writing
and applies the terms "positive" and "negative"
Julia Margaret Cameron, Sir John Frederick William Herschel, 1867.











"I must now do three things: (1) give more sharpness to the representation of the subject; (2) transpose the colors; and (3) fix them permanently, which will not be the easiest of the three." - Joseph Nicephore Niepce
Joseph Nicephore Niepce, View from His Window at Le Gras, c. 1826. Heliograph.











Daguerreotype process:

The Artist's Studio


Used silver-plated sheet of copper
Placed silver side down over box containing iodine
Iodine fumes reacted with the silver to create light sensitive silver iodide on the surface of the plate
Exposed the plate in a camera obscura for several hours
  No image visible afterwards
Exposed plate to fumes from heated mercury
Image became visible
Plate bathed in strong solution of table salt
Halted the light sensitivity of the silver iodide
Plate washed in water
Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, Still Life in Studio, 1837. Daguerreotype.











"It is hardly too much to say, that those whom we love no longer leave us in dying, as they did of old. They remain with us just as they appeared in life; they look down upon us from our walls; they lie upon our tables... But the unfading artificial retina which has looked upon them retains their impress, and a fresh sunbeam lays this on the living nerve as if it were radiated from the breathing shape. How these shadows last, and how their originals fade away!" - Sir Oliver Wendell Holmes
Southworth and Hawes, Young Girl, c. 1850.  Daguerreotype.











Daguerre hires Count Francois Arago, Secretary of the Academy of Sciences, to promote invention and secure copyright from government
Hippolyte Bayard makes direct positives on sensitized paper
Exposes paper with silver chloride emulsion to light
Soaks paper in potassium iodide
Exposes paper in obscura about 12 minutes
Washes paper in bath of hyposulphite of soda
Bayard shows examples of prints to Count Arago
Arago pressures Bayard not to publish results of his experiments
Hippolyte Bayard, Plaster Casts,
c. 1839.  Direct paper positive.











January 9, 1839
  • Arago announces Daguerre's process to a joint session of the Academy of Science and the Academy of Fine Art
August 19, 1839
  • Daguerre's process publicly announced and Daguerre receives French patent
  • Daguerre receives lifetime pension from French government
  • Daguerre applies for English patent on the process
  • Daguerre claims full credit for the invention (Niepce goes unrecognized for years)
  • Niepce's son sues the government for compensation for his part in Daguerre's process
Count Francois Arago. Lithograph.











Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, Triptych with three daguerreotypes presented to King Ludwig I of Bavaria, 1839.











Le Boulevard du Temple

Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, Le Boulevard Du Temple, c. 1837. Daguerreotype.











Le Boulevard du Temple

Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre,
Le Boulevard Du Temple, c. 1837. Daguerreotype.

Attributed to Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre,
Daguerreotype of M. Huet? 1837.










Daguerreotype camera

1839 Daguerreotype camera


The brother-in-law of Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, Alphonse Giroux
manufactured camera obscuras based on Daguerre's custom device, and sold them internationally.

In 2010, an 1839 Daguerreotype Giroux sold for $899,000 making it the most expensive camera.











The Propylea

Pierre Gusttave Joly de Ltbiniere, The Propylaea at Athens, 1839. Aquatint engraving from a daguerreotype.










June 1839
Hippolyte Bayard exhibits 30 of his direct positive prints in Paris

Self-portrait as Drowned Man

First public exhibition of photographic images
Bayard given small cash award
"The corpse you see is that of M. Bayard… The Academy, the King and all those who have seen his pictures admired them, just as you do… This has brought him prestige, but not a penny. The government, which has supported M. Daguerre more than is necessary, declared it could do nothing for M. Bayard, and the unhappy man drowned himself…he has been at the morgue for several days, and no one has recognized him. Ladies and gentlemen, you'd better pass along for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay."
- Hippolyte Bayard
Hippolyte Bayard, Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man, 1840. Direct paper positive.











Daguerreotype Equipment