Photography Timeline

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Photography Timeline

(Including some important historical events)


We owe the name ‘Photography’ to Sir John

Hershel, who first used the term in 1839, the

year the photographic process became public.

The word is derived from the Greek words for

light and writing.






It may seem strange but cameras existed long

before photography. As far back as the 5th

Century BC, an image of the outside scene was

formed by sunlight through a small hole into a

darkened room. This is known as a Camera

Obscura which means ‘Darkened Room’.






The Camera Obscura was improved by utilising

a simple lens at one end and a ground-glass

screen at the other, upon which an image is

projected. This is used as an aid to drawing and

painting by artists including Vermeer,

Caravaggio and Canaletto.










Isaac Newton demonstrated that light is the

source of colour. He used a prism to split

sunlight into its constituent colours and another

to recombine them to make white light.





The German physicist Johann Heinrich Schulze

discovers the basic principle of photography by

noting that silver salts darken when exposed to






Beethoven composes

his Fifth Symphony.



Humphrey Davy reports to colleagues at a

scientific society on the results of Thomas

Wedgewood’s experiments with silhouettes of

leaves and other objects placed on paper

sensitized with silver nitrate. Unfortunately,

neither Wedgewood nor Davy is able to ‘fix’ the

results permanently.






Napoleon invades

Russia in June. His

armies enter Moscow

but are forced to

retreat in November

as winter sets in.




Michael Faraday

conducts a series of

experiments which

demonstrate the

principle of





Joseph Nicéphore Niépce creates a permanent

image using a camera obscura and white

bitumen, it took 8 hours to expose.






Lois Daguerre’s invention, which was bought by

the French government, produced a one-of-a-

kind picture on metal, the DAGUERREOTYPE.



The term Photography is patented.



The American Anti-

Slavery Society is

founded in Boston

dedicated to abolition

throughout the United

States. The Slavery

Abolition Act is

passed in Britain,

outlawing slavery

throughout the British




The name calotype came from the Greek ‘kalos’,

meaning beautiful. Henry Fox Talbot creates

permanent (negative) images using paper

soaked in silver chloride and fixed with a salt

solution, the CALOTYPE. He then creates

positive images by contact printing onto another

sheet of paper. The process introduced two

important advances – the use of the developer

and the exploitation of the latent image.



The revolution of

February 1848

deposes King Louis-

Philippe and

establishes the

second French

Republic, with Louis-

Napoleon Bonaparte

elected as president.

Karl Marx and

Frederich Engels

publish the

Join now!

communist manifesto,

a critique of the

capitalist system.







The painter David Octavius Hill forms a

partnership with the photographer Robert

Adamson to produce calotype portraits of

Edinburgh notables. From their studio they

make many of the finest portraits of the 1840s.




The Pencil of Nature, the first commercially

produced, photographically illustrated book, is

published in six parts over two years. Consisting

of twenty-four calotypes by Henry Fox Talbot.


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