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The Three Inventors and Their Contributions to Photography
A photograph is an image that can last forever. People are now able to capture moments of happiness, sadness, friendship, family, historic events, and many more. It was discovered in mainly by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, and William Henry Fox Talbot. All three of these men made a contribution towards the discovery and accomplishment to the overall invention of photography.
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Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, was a French inventor and the first to make a long-lasting picture. He and his brother, Claude, invented the Pyréolophore, the world’s first internal combustion engine that successfully powered a boat upstream. However, that is not what Niépce is known for. He was looking for a way to copy artwork automatically and became interested in lithography. He explored new ways of using light sensitive materials to transfer images directly on a stone/printing plate. Niépce created a process called heliography, “[…] dissolved bitumen of Judea in a solvent and coated a pewter plate with the resulting solution. When exposed to light […] the bitumen became hard and insoluble. After exposure, the plate was washed in a lavender oil and turpentine […] leaving a permanent image created by light,” (Harding 2013). With this process, he took a photo of the view outside of a window at his house. The photo’s exposure was eight hours, which is a very long time considering how our cameras today take pictures in seconds. Unfortunately, the photo was flawed because it was hard to see. Niépce went to England to visit his brother and brought six plates of his work with him. He saw an opportunity, hoping to show King George IV and the Royal Society. However, he never got the chance and decided to go back home. He left his plates with a friend, Franz Bauer, an Australian illustrator who was a Fellow of the Royal Society. Later in life, Niépce was suffering from personal issues which had set him back in his work. After being persuaded by Daguerre, he signed an agreement to work with him for 10 years. However, it ended abruptly because Niépce died of a heart attack. When Daguerre announced the daguerreotype to the public, Niépce received zero credit for it.
Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre was a French painter that owned a theatre named the Diorama and invented the daguerreotype. He became interested in taking more realistic images. Unlike how photos are printed today, daguerreotypes are an, “[…] image on a highly polished, silver-platted sheet of copper, sensitized with iodine vapors, exposed in a large box camera, developed in mercury fumes, and stabilized with salt water or [sodium thiosulfate] without the use of a negative,” (Daniel 2004). When comparing it to photographic paper, it’s a mirror-like surface that is not flexible and heavy with accurate details. The process was mostly used for portraits. Daguerre desperately wanted to build another Diorama in France for publicity, therefore he took photos around Paris. However, no one was interested with his work. Then, François Arago, an Academy of Science member, persuades Daguerre to sell the patent to the government. Daguerre took his advice and went before the Academy of Science, with Argo presenting for him. The scientists were amazed with Daguerre’s work. Six months later, six images go on display in Paris and within months, cameras were everywhere. Since cameras were becoming popular, other people were also trying how to figure out how to take pictures with a camera at that time. One person in particular could be argued as the father of modern photography today.
William Henry Fox Talbot was an English scientist and inventor of the salt paper and calotype process. During his grand tour honeymoon, he would look use the camera lucida to help him sketch scenes that he saw. He was interested in drawing, but was embarrassed by his artwork. He thought of how great it would be he could get those images to print themselves and remain on paper. Talbot returns home and began to experiment with his camera and other chemicals. Within a few months, he discovered that, “a sheet of fine writing paper, coated with salt and brushed with a solution of silver nitrate, darkened in the sun, and that a second coating of salt impeded further darkening or fading,” (Daniel 2004). Talbot used this discovery to make tracings by pressing a leaf on sensitized paper, covered it with a sheet of glass, and left it out in the sun. Wherever the light hit, the paper would be dark. Wherever the light didn’t hit, the paper was white. He called this the art of photogenic drawing. As he improved, he took advantage of the sun and placed pieces of sensitized paper all over his house which animated the roofline and trees. During the time of his discovery, he was not aware about Daguerre’s process. After hearing that Daguerre went public with his discovery, Talbot decided to go public with his work as well. He knew that producing pictures was a hit. Therefore, he discovered, “an exposure of mere seconds, leaving no visible trace on the chemically treated paper, nonetheless left a latent image that could be brought out with the application of an ‘exciting liquid’ (essentially a solution of gallic acid),” named the calotype process (Daniel 2004). Later in life, he wrote a book called The Pencil of Nature. It was the first book to have pictures in it. The book documented the begging of photography through studies of art objects and architecture. Talbot spent the last years of his life working on perfecting his discovery. His search for a photographic process using permanent ink was the last step of his invention.
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The three main men, Niépce, Daguerre, and Talbot, invented what is known as photography and has impacted everyone on how we take photos. Photographs to this day are very important- from documenting photos for cherishing memories of close ones to using them in books to teach others. If it wasn’t for Niépce’s invention of the Heliograph, Daguerre would have never persuaded him to sign a contract to help with the invention of Daguerreotypes. Therefore, if it wasn’t for Daguerre to go public with his discovery, Talbot would have never exposed his invention to the public either. In the end, from the camera obscure to digital cameras, photography wouldn’t be this far advanced if it wasn’t for those three men.
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