Photography History: Enter The Mechanic…

This is Part II of the Photography History series

Dinosaurs are awesome. Still, it’s time to head to the year 1878. Reconstruction was in full swing in the United States. Life was mostly peaceful across the Pond. France and Prussia were still arguing over Alsace and Lorraine but they weren’t fighting. The Daguerreotype process was the dominant form of photography. However, that was soon to change due to the tireless efforts of one man in the United States.

In 1878, an American man named George Eastman purchased one of the bulky and intricate Daguerreotype process camera kits in anticipation of a trip to Santo Domingo. These kits came with a tent, wet plates, chemicals, the camera, and other apparatuses that were part and parcel of the Daguerreotype process. Eastman remarked that the kit would require a horse dedicated to just carrying it if he took it with him on his vacation. The trip never took place but Eastman, fascinated by photography and the tools required to turn out good photos, became determined to simplify the process. Two years later, he founded the Kodak company. At first, he worked on developing a dry plate process instead of relying on the wet plates required in that era’s photography. Eventually, he moved away from using glass plates at all and instead developed a method of using paper. By 1888, he had patented the Eastman Kodak, a camera that did away with the need for bulky plates, tents, chemicals, and its own horse to cart everything around, instead, coming with film in a roll that allowed the photos to be developed later on. Kodak also provided a service where their customers could mail their Kodak cameras back to the company for the professionals to develop, meaning that would-be photographers no longer had to construct their own darkrooms!

The much smaller, lighter Kodak camera moved photography from the realm of the specialist and into the hands of the everyday working man. Eastman Kodak continued to work on refining cameras, making them smaller and more resilient, always with an eye towards making photography the pastime of the average American. In the 1910s and 1920s, they introduced a new design — the pocket camera. These smaller cameras, however, had no internal or external flash. The flash bulbs were the reason for the bulk but external flash bulbs would not become a reality until 1931.

Flash developments actually did a lot to make photography more useful and the tricks with lighting that photographers learned are what began to separate the amateurs from the pros. Check back for the next part of this series in which History Geek will expound upon flash photography. For now, we’re going to head back to 2012!