History of Black and White Vintage Photography
Throughout the history of photography black and white vintage photography provides a distinct view of the world through the camera’s lens. Black and white vintage photography presents what street photographers consider the real world where a decisive moment occurs. Instead of being cluttered and confused by color, black and white allows for a stark clarity on the subject to be seen. In this way, black and white allows vintage photography to be educational as it shows the world in simple yet complex realism.
Vintage photography began in the 15th Century with Robert Boyle’s discovery of silver chloride turning dark when exposed to air in a dark room. In the early 19th Century, Angelo Sala found that silver nitrate would turn black after being left in the sun. Finally later in the century, Thomas Wedgwood was able to capture images on film. Photography as a term was coined by Sir John Herschel in 1839 as the photography process was developed.
Black and white vintage photography began in 1826 as Jospeh Nicephore Niepce of France stored a black and white image on pewter plate covered in a petroleum using a camera, but the process took eight hours and immense sunshine to record the image. Niepce died of a stroke, but he left his notes to French photographer M. Daguerre. In 1839 Daguerre created a means through which images could be recorded like a painting or engraving unlike camera obscura.which could project an image but not record it. For Daguerre, two major innovations in photography occurred. First, Daguerre exposed silver to iodine vapor. The image would then be exposed to light and mercury fumes. Second, Daguerre used silver on copper plate to record and develop the image. These prints came to known as Daguerreotypes in honor of M. Daguerre.
Some of the major benefits of Daguerre’s discovery included a shortened exposure time from eight hours to 30 minutes once the photographic plates were invented. Daguerreotypes allowed photography to become a pastime of the middle classes, and as availability and quality of photography increased and price decreased, then photography became a preferred method for art and recording periods of time.
Despite the positive innovations, daguerreotypes had their limitations. These photos were impossible to copy and were very easy to destroy. Daguerreotypes also did not form negatives, so copies of images could not be made. Daguerreotypes were also very expensive forms of vintage photography as they could cost $1000.
As innovations were made in photography, the daguerreotype gave way to the Calotype which was pioneered by British innovator, William Fox Talbot. Talbot’s advances rapidly decreased the exposure time further allowing the first photographs of the human subjects to be completed. Calotypes could also be reproduced positive prints that established the procedures for the future of photography.
In 1851 the collodion wet plate process was discovered as a photographic material that was coated could be developed in about fifteen minutes in a portable darkroom, but this made photography more affordable to everyone who wanted to participate. From the calotype to the collodion process allowed further developments to improve photography and evolve the medium into modern film, tintypes, gelatin-silver prints, and the digital imaging of today.
With a desire for a more classical look, black and white vintage photography is making a come back in the importance of photographers. These photos allow contemporary society to see the past as it was when the photo was taken forever freezing that moment in time for reference. Outside of the past significance, black and white vintage photography based upon the silver halide method are resistant to fading and last for long periods. Finally, understanding the concepts and principles of vintage photography further enhances the knowledge of the photographer. Ideas such as shadow detail, image contrast, film and exposure latitude, and tonal range are enhanced through the use of black and white vintage photography. If a photographer can understand these principles of photography then they can truly begin to master the art form itself.