The Three Inventors of Photography

As we know today, the history of photography goes back into the ancient times when camera obscuras were used to form images on walls in a darkened room. Over centuries the quality output of the camera obscura has improved, but it was not until 1826 when Frenchman Joseph Nicephore Niepce combined the camera obscura with photosensitive paper and created the first permanent picture.

By 1827 Niepce has partnered with Louis Daguerre, who later, in January of 1839, introduced Daguerreotype to the French Academy of Science. A process that creates images on silver-plated copper coated with silver iodide and develops with warm mercury. And only weeks after the introduction of Daguerreotype, Englishman Henry Fox Talbot announced his invention of Calotype to the Royal Institution of Great Britain. A process that creates permanent negative images using paper soaked in silver chloride, fixed with a salt solution, and creates a positive image by contact printing onto another sheet of paper. This technique is considered to be the basis of modern photography.

During the same time period a French civil servant and photographer, Hippolyte Bayard, invented his own process known as direct positive printing. A process that involves exposing silver chloride paper to light, which turned the paper completely black. It was then soaked in potassium iodide before being exposed in the camera. After the exposure, it was washed in a bath of hyposulfite of soda and dried. The resulting image was a unique photograph that could not be reproduced. In fact, Bayard claimed he had invented photography earlier than Daguerre in France and Talbot in England, the men usually credited with its invention. He might not have been known as one of the inventors of photography, but on June 24th, 1839 he presented the world’s first public exhibition of photography with some thirty of his photographs.

Hippolyte Bayard - Self PortraitOne of Bayard’s most interesting photographs is his self-portrait, where he is depicted as a downed man. He is leaning back, in an almost upright position, with his knees bent in sitting pose. His nude torso and arms are pale and appear almost lifeless, opposite to his tilted head and crossed hands that are tanned, yet still motionless. His eyes are closed, and little to no facial expression project peacefulness and rest. His body’s posture and the props in the image, big hat staged on his right side and the white sheet covering his lower body has similarities to post-mortem photography that was very common in the 19th century. Perhaps it was Bayard’s way to tell the world that he is at peace for not being known as the inventory of photography, hence the portrait of death. Or perhaps he wanted to use it in protest against the injustice happening to him. In fact, this image is the first known example of the use of photography for propaganda purpose.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that his “outside the box” thinking and his artistic abilities have paved the way, not only in technical but also creative ways, to what we know today as modern photography. And for more in-depth research results, feel free to read my paper on “Photography from the 19th century Iran” on academia.edu.

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