Brief History of Photography –
From its Beginnings to Present Day
Image: Fore Street, Liskeard c1900
The invention of photography, or the production of an image, was invented for the purpose of documentation. Before the invention of photography, the visual documentation process was done by either drawing or painting. Scholars therefore had to rely on detailed and skilled drawings, which were not always accurate, to study things like anatomy, astronomy, or species of animals.
Image: The Animal Kingdom or Zoological System of the celebrated Sir Charles Linnaeus https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org
Early examples of photography involved many more materials than today’s simple and familiar ‘click of a button’. The first permanent photographic image was produced in the 1820’s. Early photography was developed from light sensitive materials, glass plates, and chemical processes that produced negatives. Negatives showed the image in ‘reverse’, where the lightest areas appeared as the darkest and vice versa. Negatives are used to produce positives,which shows the image as it originally appeared
Image: photographic glass plates
Many early photographs focused on themes such as portraiture, architecture, and picturesque nature, all of which reflected the style and themes of traditional painting. The history of photography also ties into the history of art and film, some artists use the medium to create works showcasing ties to surrealism, photojournalism, and abstraction.
Image: Hanover, Germany 1946 – John Rapson Collection
As Photography developed and became more accessible, especially with the production of Kodak Cameras in the 1950s, the mass population had ease of access to photography. The museum has several Kodak cameras in its collection which showcase the portable, accessible, and compact nature of the camera technology.
As the name suggests the ‘Vest Pocket Kodak Special’ was small enough to be worn within a vest pocket. The compact folding film camera was portable and proved popular.
Image: Vest pocket Kodak Special (1912-1935)
Photographs expressed the nature of everyday life, from pictures of family to street photography and snapshots of objects present in everyday life.
Image: Woman at street water pump (John Rapson Collection)
In the late 1990s digital cameras, which no longer used film, were marketed to the public. Following this, with the development of the mobile phone, digital cameras were incorporated into the devices. Digital cameras increased the speed and quantity of image production. The arrival of social media encouraged the sharing and production of images at an individual and widespread level.
Image: Modern mobile phones incorporate high resolution cameras
Have you been inspired by a film or photograph?
Image: Coming Soon – ‘Take a Closer Look’ - An exhibition of macro photography.
The history of photography is closely tied to our everyday lives, as most people have access to its contemporary technology. Digital ‘point and shoot’ and smartphone cameras are accessible at our fingertips and in an instant. Liskeard has close connections to the world of photography, with a camera collection and display featuring historical examples of cameras at Liskeard & District Museum.
Image: Photographic equipment on display at Liskeard & District Museum
The Studio Camera is a camera that was used within a photographer’s studio and was more robust and larger than the portable cameras of today. Due to its dimensions studio cameras often sat upon custom made wooden tripods.
Image: Marion & Co. of London Studio Camera (c1880s)
Manufactured by the Manhattan Optical Co. in circa 1899, it is constructed of a mahogany box, leather covered with a rapid rectillinear lens and automatic shutter with finger and pnematic release. The camera had a compact design measuring 1 7/8 x 4 1/4 x 5 1/8 (4.8 x 10.8 x 13cm) when closed and weighed 16 ounces (454g).
Image: Pocket Wizard (c 1899)
The 19th Century camera features Mahogany wood, brass, and bellows, which is the accordion like extendable part of the camera.
Image: Wratton & Wainwright Tailboard Plate (c1890)
The U.S. manufactured camera, produced by the Eastman Kodak Company, features a leatherette covered wooden body. The camera can be used in portrait or landscape orientation due to the rotatable viewfinder.
Image: Kodak No.2 Folding Pocket Brownie (1907)
The camera originates from Germany and takes 127 roll film (for 3 x 4 cm pictures). Features a single shutter speed and a leatherette cover.
Image: Zeiss Baby Box Tengor (1931)
This Box camera was produced from 1930s onwards, used 120 film and featured a handle. Another variation of the camera was known as the ‘Erabox’.
Image: Zeiss Ikon Baldur Box Camera (c1930s)
The camera originates from the U.K. and takes the standard 120 roll film. The body of the camera is wooden covered in black leatherette. It features a pair of lenses.
Image: Thornton Pickard Stereo Puck- 120 roll box camera (1931-1935)
The camera originates from Dresden, Germany and features a cubic camera body. The first version has a fixed lens whilst later models had interchangeable lenses.
Image: Pilot 6 (1936)
The Peacock originates from Japan and features a rigid metal body and a tubular view finder in the middle on top of the camera.
Image: Peacock (1939)
The Eljy Lumiere (1938-1944) 35mm camera originates from France. The Minetta miniature camera was made in Japan in the 1950s.
Image: Eljy & 8 Minetta- Miniature Cameras
Agfa Silette 35 film view finder cameras were introduced by Agfa, founded in Berlin, in the 1950s. The name ‘Prontor’ refers to the type of shutter used in this camera.
Image : Agfa Prontor II
The Agilux Agiflash features designs inspired by the main Art Deco period with a curvilinear main body design and lettering around the lens.
Image: AgiFlash (1954)
The Brownie 127 features a moulded plastic body and a view finder, produced in the U.K. by Kodak. The camera was very popular. Overall Kodak as a company produced cameras that made photography accessible to the general population.
Image: Brownie 127 (1952-1959)
The Brownie Flash Box Camera, manufactured by Kodak, features a metal body in a leatherette covering with two view finders.
Image: Brownie Flash III (1950’s/60’s)
The Colorsnap cameras, from Kodak, were produced in the U.K. and consisted of three models. The body consists of plastic and metal with an ‘Anaston’ lens.
Image: Colorsnap (1950’s/60’s)
The Land Camera is a self-developing film camera, named after the inventor Edwin Land (1909-1991). The various roll film could produce images in black and white, sepia or in colour.
Image: Polaroid Land Camera (1948-1983)
The Pentax Auto camera used Kodak 110 film. In 1981 three interchangeable lenses were introduced. The camera is single lens reflex camera, or SLR, which means the photographer can look through the lens and see the image being captured.
Image: Pentax Auto 110 (1978)
The museum also has an extensive collection of original photographs, including film and glass plates. The collection includes images by resident photographers such as John Rapson (1923-2020) whose photographs offer detailed insight into the history of the architecture and people of Liskeard.
Images: Photographs from the John Rapson collection held at Liskeard & District Museum
Looking at history through the lens of photography grants access to an individual perspective, it provides an insightful and unique opportunity to share a part of someone’s personal life story and unique experience. Moments spent admiring natural views and documenting local construction become visual monuments connecting the time of the past to the present.
Image: Clearance of buildings in Baytree Hill, Liskeard 1984