Photographs from our collection.

How it All Began:

Around 1717, Johann Heinrich Schulze captured cut-out letters on a bottle of a light-sensitive slurry, but he apparently never thought of making the results durable. Around 1800, Thomas Wedgwood made the first reliably documented, although unsuccessful attempt at capturing camera images in permanent form. His experiments did produce detailed photograms, but Wedgwood and his associate Humphry Davy found no way to fix these images.

In the mid-1820s, Nicephore Niepce first managed to fix an image that was captured with a camera, but at least eight hours or even several days of exposure in the camera were required and the earliest results were very crude. Niépce’s associate Louis Daguerre went on to develop the daguerreotype process, the first publicly announced and commercially viable photographic process. The daguerreotype required only minutes of exposure in the camera, and produced clear, finely detailed results.

The details were introduced to the world in 1839, a date generally accepted as the birth year of practical photography. The metal-based daguerreotype process soon had some competition from the paper-based calotype negative and salt print processes invented by William Henry Fox Talbot and demonstrated in 1839 soon after news about the daguerreotype reached Talbot. Subsequent innovations made photography easier and more versatile. New materials reduced the required camera exposure time from minutes to seconds, and eventually to a small fraction of a second; new photographic media were more economical, sensitive or convenient.

Since the 1850s, the collodion process with its glass-based photographic plates combined the high quality known from the Daguerreotype with the multiple print options known from the calotype and was commonly used for decades. Roll films popularized casual use by amateurs. In the mid-20th century, developments made it possible for amateurs to take pictures in natural color as well as in black and white.