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An Introduction to Photographic Processes
From the Daguerreotype to the Polaroid
This research guide to the photographic process includes a glossary of terms, a timeline of photography, a bibliography and selected internet resources.
Glossary of Terms
albumen print • Photograph printed on paper coated with egg white that has been sensitized with silver salts. Albumen prints were often created from glass plate negatives and feature a high level of detail. The albumen print was the most common photographic printing process of the 19th century and was popular through the 1890s.
calotype • Process invented by William Henry Fox Talbot for creating paper negatives, the calotype is a direct ancestor of modern photography as the paper negative could be used to create multiple salted paper prints.
chromogenic print • Printed from a color negative, a color photograph that comprises three layers – each layer is sensitized to one of light’s primary colors: blue, green and red. Also referred to as “C-print” and the most common type of color photograph.
Cibachrome print (silver dye bleach print) • First introduced in 1963, this color print process typically uses a high-gloss paper and forms an image by selectively bleaching dyes that exist in the paper. Renowned as one of the most stable and long-lasting of all color prints.
contact print • An image made from direct contact with the negative. A contact print has the same dimensions as the negative. Most photographic images produced during the 19th century were contact prints.
cyanotype • Contact printing process invented in 1840 by Sir John Herschel. The image is created by ferrous cyanide, which imparts a blue tone to the paper. By the 1870s the process was used to create the architectural “blueprint” and is still used for that purpose today.
daguerreotype • One-of-a-kind image produced on a sheet of copper coated with a thin plating of silver. Developed by Louis Daguerre, the eponymous daguerreotype is characterized by its mirrored surface and the image’s high level of detail. First introduced in 1839 in France, the process quickly spread throughout Europe and to the United States where it was popular through the 1860s.
developed out print • An image made by briefly exposing a photographic negative to light. These images are made visible by using one of various chemical development processes. Initially developed during the 1850s, the developed out print didn’t gain in popularity until the late 19th century and was used throughout the 20th century before the advent of digital photography.
film negative • A means of capturing an image with light-sensitive silver salts on a flexible plastic surface. Film has advantages over glass negatives in that it is lightweight, unbreakable and flexible. First introduced in the 1880s, film negatives became increasingly popular by the early 20th century and essentially replaced glass negatives by the 1920s.
gelatin silver print (silver print) • Introduced in the 1870s, the gelatin silver print quickly became the most common photographic printing process. The photographic paper is coated with gelatin that contains light sensitive silver salts. The gelatin silver print still remains the standard for black and white photographic prints.
glass plate negative • Glass plates were used as negatives in two separate photographic processes during the 19th century: the wet plate and dry plate collodion processes. Glass plates had two advantages over paper negatives in that they yielded a high level of detail and withstood numerous printings. But glass plates were also fragile and often difficult to work with. Glass was used for negatives from the 1850s through the 1920s before being replaced by film.
paper negative • The paper negative is the earliest type of photographic negative. Generally made from fine cotton rag paper, the negative was created by sensitizing the paper with silver salts and then exposing the paper in a camera. The negative was then developed and fixed. Paper negatives often impart a slight texture to the images – given the nature of the paper. Popular in Britain and Europe during the 1840s and 1850s, but used less frequently in the U.S.
Polaroid (dye diffusion transfer print) • Self-developing color photographic process invented by Edwin Land in 1947, the Polaroid revolutionized both home photography during the early 1960s and fine art photography after being adopted by artists as a unique means of artistic expression.
salt print (salted paper print) • The earliest positive print, images were created via contact with a paper negative. The process was invented by William Henry Talbot in 1840 and involved sensitizing a sheet of paper in a solution of sodium chloride (i.e. salt) and then coating the paper with silver nitrate. The paper was then placed, sensitized side up, beneath a sheet of glass and then exposed to sunlight.
Timeline of Photography: 1820s - Present
|mid-1820s first experiments with early photographic techniques
1839 daguerreotype process is made public in France
1839 the first camera, the Giroux Daguerreotype, is made commercially available
|1840s||1840s widespread use of the daguerreotype in Europe and United States
1840 paper negative invented by William Henry Fox Talbot
1843 advent of the photographic enlarger
1845 Matthew Brady opens portrait studio in New York City
1849 advent of the twin-lens camera and the development of the stereoscopic image
1849 first images of Egypt are published and give rise to travel photography
|1851 introduction of the glass plate negative process
1856 photojournalism is invented when images of the Crimean War are published
1861 Matthew Brady and other photographers record Civil War
|1870s||1870s U.S. Congress sends photographers William H. Jackson and Timothy O’Sullivan out West to document the American landscape|
|1880s||1880s improvements to glass plate negative process renders it easier and more convenient for photographers
1880s general use of the gelatin silver print
1887 introduction of cellulose photographic film negative
1888 introduction of the Kodak box camera simplifies photography and casual “snapshot” photography is born
|1900s||1900 Kodak sells the $1.00 Brownie camera and makes photography widely available
1902 Alfred Stieglitz publishes Camera Work which promotes photography as an art
|1920s||1920s advent of the carbro print - the first full-color photographic process|
|1930s||1935 development of Kodachrome film – the first multi-layered color film|
|1940s||1940s development of the color chromogenic print
1947 Edwin Land creates the dye diffusion transfer print – commonly known as instant photography or the “Polaroid”
|1960s||1960s rise in popularity of the Polaroid camera
1963 release of the Polaroid color camera
1963 earliest pre-cursor to the digital camera is developed at Stanford University
|1970s||1978 Konica introduces the first “point-and-shoot” auto focus camera|
|1980s||1984 Canon demonstrates the first digital electronic still camera
1989 introduction of the single use or “disposable” camera
|1990s||1990 first digital cameras are available on the retail market
1992 Kodak introduces the first PhotoCD
1994 sale of the first consumer-level digital camera able to work with a home computer
For More Information: A Brief Bibliography
Baldwin, Gordon. Looking at Photographs: A Guide to Technical Terms. Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1991.
Coe, Brian. A Guide to Early Photographic Processes. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983.
Crawford, William. The Keepers of Light: A History and Working Guide to Early Photographic Processes. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Morgan and Morgan, 1979.
Frizot, Michel. The New History of Photography. Paris: Könemann, 1994.
Mora, Gilles. PhotoSpeak: A Guide to the Ideas, Movements and Techniques of Photography, 1839 to the Present. New York: Abbeville Press, 1998.
Marien, Mary Warner. Photography: A Cultural History. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002.
Reilly, James M. Care and Identification of 19th Century Photographic Prints. Rochester, NY: Eastman Kodak Company, 1986.
Rosenblum, Naomi. A World History of Photography. New York: Abbeville Press, 1997.
Selected Internet Resources
New York Public Library Digital Gallery. Access over 500,000 digitized images from various NYPL collections.