The Beginning of Photography

Essay by Justin KendallHigh School, 12th grade December 1996

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First, the name. We owe the name "Photography" to Sir John Herschel, 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.

Before mentioning the stages that led to the development of photography, there is one

amazing, quite uncanny prediction made by a man called de la Roche (1729-1774) in a work

called Giphantie. In this imaginary tale, it was possible to capture images from nature, on a

canvas which had been coated with a sticky substance.1 This surface, so the tale goes, would not

only provide a mirror image on the sticky canvas, but would remain on it. After it had been dried

in the dark the image would remain permanent. The author would not have known how

prophetic this tale would be, only a few decades after his death.

There are two distinct scientific processes that combine to make photography possible.


is somewhat surprising that photography was not invented earlier than the 1830s, because these

processes had been known for quite some time. It was not until the two distinct scientific

processes had been put together that photography came into being.

The first of these processes was optical. The Camera Obscura (dark room) had been in

existence for at least four hundred years. There is a drawing, dated 1519, of a Camera Obscura

by Leonardo da Vinci; about this same period its use as an aid to drawing was being advocated.2

The second process was chemical. For hundreds of years before photography was

invented, people had been aware, for example, that some colours are bleached in the sun, but

they had made little distinction between heat, air and light.

In the sixteen hundreds Robert Boyle, a founder of the Royal...