Week One--Photography History and Early Photojournalism
The daguerreotype process does not involve a negative of any kind. It began with a silver-coated copper plate, which had to be polished until it reflected well. Then the plate was "sensitized" to light by iodine fumes (forming AgI, a light-sensitive compound), until it gained a yellowish color. The plate was finally transferred to the camera. After being exposed to the light, the plate was developed over hot mercury. The imaged was fixed with sodium thiosulfate or salt in solution and then toned with gold chloride.
Daguerreotypists invited celebrities and political leaders to sit for photos to promote business. However, anything--from buildings to bridges to brides--were daguerreotyped, even though the exposure time was not conducive to sitting for portraits.
Because no negatives were used, to copy a daguerreotype required taking a daguerreotype of the daguerreotype, or through lithography or engraving. In addition to this, daguerreotypes were very delicate and had to be handled with great care. The image produced was a mirror image, unless the camera was equipt with a mirror to compensate for this. The image was difficult to see at some angles. Finally, the process itself was dangerous because many of the chemicals involved were highly toxic.
The subjects of the daguerreotypes were required to sit still for as long as fifteen minutes in full sun while the image was captured on the plate. Some daguerreotypists used stands to support/restrain their subjects. As a result of long exposure time, many ghost or phantom images can be found in widely framed daguerreotypes, such as people who walked into the frame or items that were removed during the process of the imaging. Also, eyes appear . . . odd in daguerreotypes, because subjects usually had to blink. In some daguerreotypes, it appears the subject has no pupils, or the eyes are looking in two different directions. However, it is undeniable that daguerreotyping produced unique images in remarkable detail.
Necessity, the Mother of Invention--Sorry, but Mr. Xerox hasn't been born either.
The demand for easily reproduced images soon became greater. An additional process, calotyping, enable photographers to make reproductions easily, but the picture quality suffered in calotypes. What the market wanted was a medium to combine the best of both worlds--copies and detail. The solution seemed to be glass--coated with a photosensative substance. However, the difficult part was finding a transparent substance to bind the coating to the glass. The first solution was albumen, or egg whites, which was used until 1851, when Frances Scott Archer tried collodion, which was first developed in 1846. Made of guncotton dissolved in ether and alcohol, it had previously been used in dressing war wounds. It dried clear and provided the perfect binding solution.
The exposure time was reduced to a maximum of three seconds. The glass base gave the detail available with daguerreotypes, but the image could be developed onto paper more than once and much more cheaply. The process was never patented and photography spread like wildfire.
The collodion process was labor-intensive both before and after the picture was taken. Preparing the plates required the specific chemicals, which were highly flammable and explosive, and carefully dipping and drying the plates. If this was done improperly, the plate may be exposed unevenly. Developing the pictures was difficult enough in a dark room, but some photographers developed them on location, which was even more difficult. And the only way to get a large picture was not through enlargement but though a large camera.
(Hey, isn't that French for calling card?)
Dear Auntie Wilma,
You would not believe what I saw today! I'm sure you've seen daguerreotypes, even in East Schlabuckisville, but this is nothing like them! Well, a little bit like them. It's more like a calotype, actually. What I saw today was called a carte de visite (doesn't it just sound so fancy?). The pictures are put on paper many times--eight or nine or some such different prints on one page. Then the pictures are cut apart and glued to heavy card paper. You can give these small pictures--for they are very small, especially compared to those old daguerreotypes--to anyone you meet! All the fashionable girls in town are having their cartes de visite made--some are even having their names printed on them! The man that makes the pictures says that European royalty are doing the exact same thing!
But the pictures today! They were amazing! Things that I had never seen before--never hoped to see, never even knew existed! [Unfortunately, the link's broken, so I still haven't seen them.] I didn't know there were such things in the world. Amazing things--terrifying things! There was one picture of people running from a savage Indian massacre. And a train wreck in Ohio--oh, it made the things look fearfully dangerous! But still . . . more than I had ever seen before. It makes me want to leave this little town--and see the world! There's so much out there that I still don't know about. And I don't want a carte de visite from Paris and London--I want to have mine made there!
I must go--chores to be done.
[Although we were supposed to view an image of President Lincoln's funeral at the Ohio state house, Lincoln was still living and breathing in 1863, when the letter is supposed to have been written.]
To coerce. To manipulate. To ply. The negative connotations associated with these verbs are apparent.
To photograph. To portray. To depict. A certain trust accompanies the sentiments conveyed by this set. The viewer of a photograph expects the image he or she beholds to be an accurate depiction of the way things really are, or were. Today, it is accepted that a photograph may have been tampered with using technology. In the period when photography was first popularized, it was inconceivable that a photographer would deceive anyone, on purpose or not. The viewers invested their trust in the photographer, especially when a historic event, such as a war, was the subject of the photograph. They believed that whatever they were shown was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The concept of (photo)journalistic integrity reigned supreme in the eyes of the receivers.
However, the integrity of the photograph itself suffers when the photographer surrenders his veracity, even in the wary photomarket of today. Absolute probity was expected of photographers, but even more so in the early photojournalistic period. But even then, the unscrupulous photographers manipulated subjects, settings, framing--almost anything in search of a better shot. And a better shot they often got--but at what price? When these insidious schemes were revealed, how did the recipients of the photograph react? Was their view of the picture tainted by the knowledge that it didn't depict an actual event, but a reality which the photographer conjured up from his imagination? It would seem rather upsetting, to make an understatement of fact. To think that one had invested his or her trust in the photographer himself, only to be deceived!
A photographer is never justified in altering part of a picture which is supposed to be a representation of actual events (posed pictures, on the other hand, are completely different). In war photography, the pictures are not meant to be posed. They are meant to convey the horrors or events of the battles as they actually happened, and report them back to the public. When a photographer forgets to whom he is accountable, or allows "artistic" motivations to cloud his judgement, he begins to take liberties with his photographs.
Many moving and emotional events have been portrayed in set up photographs, including pictures supposedly depicting the horrors of war. Bodies have been moved, props added, lies attached in the form of narratives. The power conveyed in these photographs is compromised by the photographer. The viewer places faith in the photographer, instead of the camera. Only one cannot lie.