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Get an insight into the rich history of photography!

A History of Photography

The exhibition provides knowledge of the pre-photographic techniques in which the idea of an image was created, via the enormous breadth of experimentation and exploration, to today's digital images.

  • A schoolboy holds a daguerreotype in his hands.
    Photo: Christine Wendelborg/Preus Museum

A bright idea

It is nearly impossible for us to understand just how revolutionary the invention of the photograph was: finally, people could preserve an exact image of how something or someone. By using a camera obscura, it had already been possible to see a picture – the challenge was to capture it. Many inventors took part in the race to be the first to develop a method that could retain the image that the light created. On 19 August 1839, victory was claimed by the Frenchman Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851). The date is now known as the birthday of the photograph – the day that the daguerreotype was gifted to the world. In his efforts, Daguerre collaborated with another Frenchman, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833), who sadly died several years before the invention was completed.

The daguerreotype is a silver-plated, mirror-like copperplate that is exposed to light in a camera. The picture is a direct positive, and it will be laterally reversed and appear as a mirror image (something that could be avoided by photographing through a mirror). Since the daguerreotype is made on an opaque plate, there is only a single copy of each picture.

A brighter idea

The daguerreotypes were exclusive – each time a photograph was taken, only a single copy was created. How could numerous copies be made? 

At the same time as Daguerre, the Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1870) experimented with the imprint of light on paper, using light to create a negative image on the paper in the camera. He subsequently made the paper translucent by using wax. Talbot had thereby introduced the negative/positive process, which enabled a single negative to provide an infinite number of positives. The negative/positive process remained the industry standard until digital photography took over 160 years later with its zeroes and ones.

Talbot called his process calotype, which means “beautiful drawing”. Because of its paper fibres, the calotype provided a soft, diffuse, and what many regarded as an artistic look. In that way, calotypes distinguished themselves from the hyperrealist daguerreotypes.

Did you know that Norway had its own photography pioneer? Not long after Daguerre and Talbot documented their processes, Hans Thøger Winther (1786–1851) published Norway’s (and one of the world’s) first photographic books explaining his three different methods of photographic reproduction in 1845.

  • Image of book cover. On the left side a photograph of a bust of a man, on the right side text.
    The Pencil of Nature, William Henry Fox Talbot, 1844. Preus Museum collection. (photo: Andreas Harvik/Preus Museum)

Clear as glass

Taking photographs on glass combined the best of the two processes: the sharpness and detailed imagery of Daguerre’s mirror, and the possibility of reduplication inherent in Talbot’s paper. 

Wet plates, also known as collodion wet plates, were introduced in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer (1813–57). As the name suggests, the plates had to be wet, or actually sticky, during the photographing and development phases. For that reason, photographers used portable darkroom “tents”. The wet plates afforded detailed and finely nuanced pictures. A modification of the process, where an underexposed negative was given a reverse side of black paper or velvet, became highly popular in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Such pictures were usually called ambrotypes. Ferrotypes were a less expensive variant on metal plates. 

The photographer’s world became easier when the dry plate was introduced in 1871. All that was required was to put the plate in the camera without further ado, and it could be developed when it suited the photographer. The disadvantage was that the glass was still heavy and fragile.

  • Kamera
    «The Kodak» ble patentert den 4. september 1888, og skulle gjøre det mulig for folk uten teknisk kompetanse å ta bilder og skape minner for livet. Preus museums samling. Bildet er hentet fra DigitaltMuseum. Se digitaltmuseum.no/0210213296225

Simple? Super? Spontaneous!

A revolution in a little brown box: George Eastman introduced the first Kodak roll-film camera in 1888. The initial version used paper, with a transparent base being introduced the following year. This made photography much easier and less expensive, so that it gradually became a hobby for “everyone”. This would fundamentally change our relationship with photography. Kodak’s motto was “You press the button – we do the rest”. After a hundred exposures, you sent your camera back to the factory, which developed the film and loaded the camera with a new roll of film. Since the camera was small and easy to use, people could take it along with them everywhere. This created entirely new types of pictures that were no longer staged and stiff, but more immediate and spontaneous. 

Camera manufacturers both new and old made roll-film cameras in different formats. While Kodak mainly produced simple cameras in many different versions, the optical instrument manufacturer Leitz, for example, designed the high-quality Leica camera that has not changed all that much from the first version from 1913, called the Ur-Leica, and until today. It was the constructor Oskar Barnack who had the path-breaking idea of using cinematic film horizontally rather than vertically. This made it possible to extend the frame size and retain the 2:3 aspect ratio. Leica was small, light, and quiet and became a favourite among documentary and press photographers.

A collection of Leica cameras

  • Kamera
    Leica I (B) Rim-set Compur er et 35 mm kamera, produsert av Leitz fra 1926-1929. Det første Leica-kamera, prototypen Ur-Lecia ble produsert i 1914, men ikke lansert før i 1923, grunnet første verdenskrig. Den første serien ble kalt 0-serie. Preus museums samling. Bildet er hentet fra DigitaltMuseum. Se digitaltmuseum.no/0210210448601
  • Kamera
    Dette er en Ur-Leica replika. Prototypen ble designet av Oscar Barnack i 1913. Replikaer ble produsert av Leitz slik at bl.a. museer kunne vise og fortelle om dette kameraets betydning for utviklingen innen kamerateknologi og fotohistorie. Preus museums samling. Bildet er hentet fra DigitaltMuseum. Se digitaltmuseum.no/0210213196372
  • Kamera
    Leica M6 fra 1989 produsert av Leitz. Dette kameraet er en jubileumsutgave for både Leica og fotografiet hadde jubileum dette året. Leica fylte 75 år og det var 150 år siden et fotografiapparat ble patentert for første gang. Kamerahus og objektiv har platinum overflate. Objektivet er Summilux-M f1.4/50mm. Preus museums samling Bildet er hentet fra DigitaltMuseum. Se digitaltmuseum.no/021029524687
  • Kamera
    Leica 1 serien består av de første kommersielt produserte Leica modellene, produsert av Leitz fra 1925. Dette kameraet ble lagd i 1930 og er utstyrt med en kikkertsøker. Kameraet bruker 35 mm rullfilm og var av høy kvalitet. Det avtagbare objektivet mangler. Preus museums samling. Bildet er hentet fra DigitaltMuseum. Se digitaltmuseum.no/0210211456825
  • Kamera
    Leica Standard (E) kamera for 35 mm film, produsert av Leitz i 1936. Preus museums samling. Bildet er hentet fra DigitaltMuseum. Se digitaltmuseum.no/0210211456826

New modes of production over the course of the twentieth century meant that cameras could be mass-produced, and new models kept on being rolled out. Photography had become a hobby and a natural part of life’s minor and major events.

Maybe you've owned some of the cameras in the exhibition?

Fast pictures

In 1943 a three-year old asked his father, Edwin Land, why they couldn’t immediately see the photo that had been taken by the camera. The question resulted in the first Polaroid camera in 1948, a fairly heavy contraption that produced sepia-toned pictures in a minute. This was followed by numerous other Polaroid cameras, and the Polaroid company was the world’s most cutting-edge technology company from the 1950s to the 1970s, becoming a veritable innovation machine that churned out one irresistible product after the other. During the 1970s, a billion instant photos a year were taken. Polaroid was not alone in the field, and several other camera manufacturers latched onto the instant photo trend.

  • Kamera
    Polaroid Land Camera 1000, enkelt instant kamera produsert av Polaroid på 1970-tallet. Preus museums samling. Bildet er hentet fra DigitaltMuseum. Se digitaltmuseum.no/0210211416111
  • Kamera
    Spicecam er et instant kamera fra 1990-tallet, frontet av den da kjente pop-gruppen Spice Girls, i et forsøk på å nå et yngre marked. Kameraet er produsert av Polaroid for 600 film. Preus museums samling. Bildet er hentet fra DigitaltMuseum. Se digitaltmuseum.no/0210211416101
  • Kamera
    Model 80 (Highlander) er et instant kamera, produsert av Polaroid fra 1954 til 1957. Kameraet er designet som et foldekamera med bærestropp og utstyrt med en sokkel for montering av blits. Preus museums samling. Bildet er hentet fra DigitaltMuseum. Se digitaltmuseum.no/0210211416103
  • Kamera
    Polaroid Instant 10, instant kamera lansert i Storbritannia på slutten av 1970-tallet. Preus museums samling. Bildet er hentet fra DigitaltMuseum. Se digitaltmuseum.no/0210211416117
  • Kamera
    SX-70 Land Camera ble produsert av Polaroid på 1970-tallet og revolusjonerte direktebildefotograferingen. Preus museums samling Bildet er hentet fra DigitaltMuseum. Se digitaltmuseum.no/0210210450394
  • Kamera
    Model 95 er Polaroids første kommersielt tilgjengelige instant kamera. Kameraet kom ut i butikkene fredagen etter Høsttakkefesten i 1948. Preus museums samling. Bildet er hentet fra DigitaltMuseum. Se digitaltmuseum.no/0210211416104
  • Kamera
    Supercolor 645 CL er et instant kamera produsert av Polaroid. Kameraet er utstyrt med innebygd blits, elektrisk lukker og lukkertider på 1/3 til 1/200 sek. Det anvender 600 film. Preus museums samling. Bildet er hentet fra DigitaltMuseum. Se digitaltmuseum.no/0210211416113

The innovating continued, and the need for even faster photos resulted in the first digital cameras being launched in the 1980s. In a digital camera it is the image sensor that captures the light that comes in through the lens. This sensor replaces the film used in analogue cameras. The larger the sensor, the more detailed the digital picture.

In 2002 Nokia launched one of the first mobile phones with a built-in camera. The camera phone’s great advantage is that it is readily available and provides unlimited editing and sharing possibilities. The quality has also gradually improved – perhaps even to such a level that it’s only die-hard aficionados who see the need for cameras that can only take pictures?

Already by 2012, more pictures were being taken every single minute than in the entire nineteenth century combined. The current estimate is that around two trillion pictures are taken each year. 

People really love to photograph!

  • A gif showing many different cameras in rapid succession
    A few of the cameras in the Preus Museum's collection that have seen some of the world's small and large events. And clouds. (photo: Ana Goncalves. Animasjon: Ingri Østerholt)
Museum24:Portal - 2024.04.15
Grunnstilsett-versjon: 2