Nineteenth-Century Photography: A Timeline

[Developments prior to the Victorian era are included to provide context.]

1515Leonardo Da Vinci describes the camera obscura. By the middle of the seventeenth century the portable camera obscura had been developed. It consisted of two boxes, one sliding inside the other. On one a lens is fitted which casts an image on the translucent surface at the back of the other.
1666Isaac Newton divides sunlight with a prism and discovers that white light is itself a combination of seven distinct colours. He believes these colours to be particles which bounce off objects and which are perceived in the eye by seven different colour receptors.
1750Canaletto uses the camera obscura as an aid to his painting in Venice
1790Thomas Wedgewood, in England, makes photograms by placing objects on leather sensitized with silver nitrate.
1801Thomas Young propounds the 'three colour' idea of light. That there are three primary colours red, green and violet which move in waves. These three blend together to make up the whole spectrum and are received by only three cones in the eye.
1816In France the Niepce brothers initiate experiments to create images using light-sensitive materials.
1826Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833) a French doctor, produces the world's first photograph using pewter plates in a camera obscura. Exposure was around eight hours. [Offlsite link.]
1833William Henry Fox Talbot starts the work that is to lead to the 1839 announcement by the British Royal Academy of the discovery of a way of obtaining images on paper by the action of light.
1835Niépce and L.J.M. Daguerre produce the world's first daguerrotype photograph. To produce a daguerrotype a highly polished silvered copper plate is exposed to iodine vapour, leaving a thin coating of light sensitive silver iodide on it. After exposure the plate is placed over heated mercury, the vapour from which combines with the silver particles to create an image. Sodium thiosulphate fixes the image. The finished daguerrotype has to be framed behind glass with the edges sealed to prevent oxidation of the silver. The image in a daguerrotype is laterally inverted (as in a mirror) and the product is fragile. Each image is unique, and no copies can be made; this being the main reason that daguerrotypes became obsolete within 20 years of their invention.
1838Charles Wheatstone discovers stereoscopic projection.
1839Daguerre is awarded an annuity by the French government and his process is given to the world.
1841Fox Talbot's calotype process is patented. This is the world's first multi-copy photographic process, using a negative/positive process, and material sensitized with silver iodide.
1842Fox Talbot begins publication of The Pencil of Nature to indicate the range and possibilities of photography.
1843Hill and Adamson begin to use calotypes for portrait photography in Edinburgh. They take photographs of the nearly 500 ministers gathered for their mass resignation from the Church of Scotland and the subsequent formation of the Free Church. These photographic studies were used as the basis of a subsequent painting by Hill: The Signing of the Deed of Demission.
1846German optical instrument factory opened at Jena by Carl Zeiss.
1847Louis Desire Blanquart-Evrard improves and modifies Fox Talbot's calotype process and sets up a printing business in Lille, France.
1849David Brewster invents the stereoscopic viewer.
1851Frederick Scott Archer introduces the wet collodion process -- the 'wet plate' process. This relatively cheap and easy process offered greater sharpness than the calotype, the replicability that the daguerrotype could not offer, and all from relatively short exposures of a few seconds. The process involved pouring a mixture of collodion and potassium iodide over a glass plate, then immersing it in a sensitizing solution of silver nitrate. The wet plate was then exposed, immediately developed, fixed, and allowed to dry out.
1851Stereo daguerrotypes by Jules Duboscq are shown at the Great Exhibition in London. These excited enormous interest; in the following three months 250,000 stereo instruments are sold in London and Paris.
1851Fox Talbot uses an exposure of 1/1000 of a second to demonstrate high speed photography.
1852Fox Talbot patents a prototype of photoengraving.
1852Bausch and Lomb Optical Co. is set up in Rochester, New York.
1853The New York Daily Tribune estimates that in the USA three million daguerreotypes are being produced annually.
1855 Roger Fenton makes photographs of the Crimean War using a specially constructed caravan with a portable darkroom.
1857-60 Robertson and Beato photograph the Indian uprisings; Beato photographs conflicts in China and Japan; Francis Frith photographs in Egypt and opens a view postcard business.
1859Gaspard-Felix Tournachan (1820-1910), using the pseudonym 'Nadar', makes photographs underground in Paris using battery-powered arc lamps.
1859Napoleon III sits for his portrait by Disderi. Soon hundreds of copies of this are selling daily.
1860Queen Victoria is photographed by Mayall. Abraham Lincoln is photographed by Matthew Brady for political campaigning.
1861The single lens reflex plate camera is patented by Thomas Sutton. This is still an extremely common camera design today. The lens used to make the photograph is also the viewing lens, and a movable mirror permits both of these functions without having to remove the plate or film.
1861James Clerk Maxwell, to test the three-colour theory of light (see 1801 above) instructs Thomas Sutton in an experiment which is demonstrated at the Royal Institution in London. A small piece of tartan ribbon is photographed on three plates and through red, green, and blue-violet filters. Three positive plates are produced and projected through the same filters. When these images are combined a reasaonably fully-coloured image is produced. This tended to confirm Young's theory of three-colour perception and is also the first reproducible colour photograph.
1861-65 Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, and colleagues provide a searchingly honest photographic record of the American Civil War.
1862Nadar takes aerial photographs over Paris.
1863-75 Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) uses long lenses in her distinctive portraiture work.
1868Thomas Annan begins documenting slum areas of Glasgow.
1869Louis Ducos du Hauron publishes Les Coleurs en Photographie: Solution du Probleme in which he outlines how colour photographs can be made as either prints or transparencies. He prophecies how three colour separation and dot screens could produce full colour images on a page (the process we now call photolithography), He also showed how by making three plates electively sensitive to three different colours, a colour image could be produced in one exposure.
1869Henry Peach Robinson publishes Pictorial Effect in Photography, trying to acquaint fellow photographers with aesthetic concepts.
1871Dry photographic plates invented. Within the decade these were being mass produced, factory-packed, and could readily be stored.
1874Julia Margaret Cameron undertakes photographs to illustrate Tennyson's Idylls of the King.
1877The first electrically-lit photographic studio is opened in Regent Street, London.
1877-78 John Thompson teams up with the journalist Adolphe Smith to investigate and show the day to day conditions of the London poor. The series of pamphlets resulting from this, Street Life in London, is the first photographically illustrated work to deal with social life.
1878Edward Muybridge in the USA analyses the movement of animals through sequential photographs using a series of cameras and trip devices. Among other things he produces the first evidence that a horse in full gallop does at a particular point have all four hooves off the ground. From 1884 he begins work at the University of Pennsylvania to produce a massive collection of photographs of animals in motion, ultimately to be published as Animal Locomotion.
1879Lewis Carroll (the Rev. Charles Dodgson) an assiduous photographer, especially of young girls, begins a new phase in his photographic career by portraying nude little girls. This causes some local scandal.
1880Half-tone engraving process first used to produce newpaper photographs (in New York).
1880The first twin lens reflex camera is produced in London. Such cameras employ a viewing lens that is matched to the 'taking lens', and focussed by the same mechanism. Rolleiflex are the best-known manufacturer of these.
1881Frederick E. Ives invents a process for making reproductions in colour: the trichromatic half-tone plate.
1886Peter Henry Emerson, together with the painter Thomas F. Goodall, produces a limited edition portfolio of images called Life and Landscapes on the Norfolk Broads. The images were innovative in showing unposed ordinary people going about their daily routines. Emerson was concerned that a photograph should as closely as possible reproduce human vision. To this end he advocated differential focusing where only the central object in a scene is rendered sharply. By 1890 he had revised his views on the capability of photography to render a natural subject accurately.
1886Frederick E. Ives develops the half-tone engraving process whereby photographic and other images can be reproduced simultaneously with text.
1888Eastman company in the USA produces the Kodak No.1 camera and roll film, thus taking a big step toward universal hand-held snapshots. With the slogan 'You press the button and we do the rest', the major innovation was the combination of a ready-loaded camera with a developing and printing service.
1890George Davison exhibits The Onion Field in the royal Photographic Society's Annual Exhibition. This image taken with a pin-hole camera and printed on rough paper heralded the beginning of impressionistic photography. Davison went on to become a founder member of The Linked Ring (see 1892 below) and also to become managing director of Kodak in Great Britain.
1890The first independent speed rating for all emulsions is devised by two British scientists, Hurter and Driffield. The ratings were known as 'H & D numbers'.
1890Photographs start to supplant hand-drawn illustrations in popular publications.
1891Gabriel Lippmann of the Sorbonne succeeds in producing a coloured image directly in the camera from one exposure, using the principle of light intereference first investigated by Newton. For this Lippmann received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1908. The process required long exposures, and results could not be copied, however.
1892The Linked Ring is formed. A society dedicated to the furthering of artistic photography. The members sought impressionistic images, often by using various manipulated printing and other techniques. Soft visual effects were often preferred.
1893The flash-bulb is invented, a glass bulb filled with magnesium-coated metal ribbon, ignited electrically.
1895The Lumière brothers demonstrate a cinema projector capable of showing 16 frames a second.
1899'The New School of American Photography' the first major exhibition of American pictorial photography is held at the Royal Photographic Society. It consists of 360 images by such photographers as: F. Holland Day; Edward Steichen; Gertrude Kasebier; and Clarence White.
1900Frederick H Evans exhibits 150 platinum prints at the Royal Photographic Society. Evans was known as a prime exponent of 'pure photography': images that are unretouched and unmanipulated. A slightly later image (from 1903) Sea of Steps taken at the Chapter House at Wells Cathedral is a much reproduced example of his work.
1900The Kodak Brownie camera is introduced.

Last modified 12 June 2022