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LC-A Big Book Chapter 66: Early Years of Photography

The first steps towards everyday life snap-shot photography were taken when Kodak, a young optical company from Rochester, New York in the USA, introduced the first flexible negatives coated on paper in 1884. Thus presenting an alternative to the fragile and inconvenient glass plates that had previously been used.

68b. By the early 20th century Kodak film automats were lining the streets.

Let’s start at the birth of photography at the beginning of the 19th century. Photography was the privilege of the few, mostly learned photographers, who had the means to afford the expensive material needed. The clumsy, heavy and complicated-to-use equipment (often huge boxes that required a poor assistant to carry them!), intricate and time-consuming development using fragile glass plates and high prices were few of the many reasons why the pleasure of taking pictures was only accessible to a limited number of people. Photography at this stage was more or less a commercial profession: photographers generally used their expensive equipment to earn their money by taking portrait pictures of people and families who could afford this sort of luxury memento.

The first steps towards everyday life snap-shot photography were taken when Kodak, a young optical company from Rochester, New York in the USA, introduced the first flexible negatives coated on paper in 1884. Thus presenting an alternative to the fragile and inconvenient glass plates that had previously been used. There are many different stories about who firstly invented roll film. Roil film is when the film is spooled up on a roll enabling it to take multiple pictures on one carrier instead of exchanging individual glass plates each time a picture is taken. It was, in fact, again Eastman who got a patent on his roll-film camera in 1888 and kicked off a revolution in multiple and fast image taking. Soon after, in 1889, he replaced the paper-base in the existing roll film with a celluloid-base and made picture taking and development again a bit easier. Whereas roll film on a paper base still needed to be post edited on glass plates, celluloid-based film functioned completely independently from the outdated plates. Mr. Eastman proudly named this kind of film “American FiIm”. Other developments such as putting roll films into small boxes (1891) and therefore making film changing in daylight possible, while avoiding having it done at the laboratory, were just a matter of time.

The results of this revolutionary development enabled people to finally take several pictures in a row on a relatively small and portable format without exchanging bulky photo-plates. Through the wise marketing of this invention, George Eastman and his Kodak Company opened up a whole new market. All of a sudden, photography became technically and economically available to every Tom, Dick and Jane in the United States and Europe. For the first time, taking pictures became an element of everyday life.

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written by ungrumpy

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: Spanish & Deutsch.