Photographic Processes

Photography was one of the most important inventions of the nineteenth century. The earliest processes were quite challenging and dangerous for the photographers. Challenges included the reliant on expensive materials such as silver, toxic ingredients such as mercury, and explosive combinations of those materials such as ether and candlelight. Over time, photographers developed new photographic process, attempting to resolve on challenge or another, which sometimes created new problems. For example, the daguerreotype was incredibly expensive and could not be reproduced beyond the initial image. About the same time, the Salt Print was developed. Inexpensive, requiring table salt and no mercury, these prints were incredibly fragile and faded quickly if exposed to the light. So you could make it for less money, but look at it quickly because it might not be visible in a month.

Each new process had, as its inspiration, the attempt to become easier, safer, and less expensive to create. As with today's use of both film and digital photography, so to did the earliest processes overlap..

[added 1/3/2015: George Eastman House has posted a series of videos on many of the stages below and more. They are well done and help to better understand the evolution of something that we value so deeply, we now carry a camera all the time on our smart phones and ipads.]

Daguerreotype: 1839 - ca. 1860
Salt Prints: 1839 - ca. 1860
Ambrotype: 1851 - 1880s
Tintype: 1858 - 1910s
Crayon Portraits: 1840 - 1915
Cyanotypes: 1840 - 1915
Albumen Prints: 1850 - ca. 1890
Stereoview: 1851 - 1940