HISTORY OF TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY, A Must Read

HISTORY OF TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY

HISTORY OF TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY,The connection between photography and travel runs deep. The oldest surviving image produced by a camera was made around 1826 when Joseph Nicephore Niepce photographed a street scene at Saint Loup de Varennes,in France. Arguably, this is also the oldest surviving travel photo. The photograph, taken in daylight, required an eight-hour exposure.

In Paris in 1839, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre introduced the photographic process now known as the daguerreotype. The process was complicated, requiring lots of equipment and handling of chemicals, but was embraced quickly. Each daguerreotype was unique and recorded scenes with excellent detail. It also allowed people to travel with cameras.

The first owners photographed their local area: Notre Dame Cathedral, the River Seine and the Pont Neuf; subjects that are considered a ‘must take’ by today’s tourists. The appeal of photography was as obvious to travellers in the middle of the 19th century as it is today. Daguerre himself suggested that his camera could easily be taken along on a journey. He was right, bu tit wasn’t quite that simple. The travelling photographer also had to carry a portable darkroom tent and enough chemicals to stock a small laboratory.

Around the same time, William Henry Fox Talbot, Daguerre’s English contemporary, invented the calotype (better known today as a negative).This made multiple copies of an image possible, but without the detail achieved in a daguerreotype.

In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer invented the wet collodion plate, which became the standard photographic process until 1880. This new process,which reduced exposure times to a mere two seconds, matched the detail possible with a daguerreotype and the calotype’s ability to be reproduced,and overcame the long exposure times required by both. It didn’t, however,ease the burden for the travel photographer. Each glass plate had to be prepared in the field and processed immediately while still damp.

Astandard outfit in the 1850s included a camera (on the large size), tripod,glass plates and plate holders; a tent-like portable darkroom; chemicals for coating, sensitising, developing and fixing the plates; and dishes, tanks and water containers. Even so, photographers carted their equipment around theworld. The Great Wall, feluccas on the Nile, temples on the Ganges at Varanasi, high passes in the Himalaya and the Grand Canyon had all been photographed in great detail by 1860.

Many of the travel photographs taken in the mid-1800s were recorded during scientific and exploratory trips, but they also served to create public interest in distant lands. Although cumbersome in the field, the collodion process produced good-quality images that were easily reproduced.

As tourism increased, so did the demand for pictures as souvenirs, and photographers began shooting for commercial reasons. According to Fabian and Adam, the first postcard was introduced by the Austrian postal service in 1869. In 1910, France printed 123 million postcards and the world’s mail systems processed around seven billion in the same year. The images, once painstakingly produced by hand, were now being churned out by printing presses, and the purists were bemoaning the loss of the craft.

The insatiable desire for postcards led critic Walter Benjamin to declare that photography had lost its ‘aura’. Others suggested that the sheer quantity of photographs being printed and released onto the market was causing a loss of interest in the medium.

The bulk, weight and messiness of the photographic process restricted the gathering of images in the early years to a small group of people who were part adventurer, part scientist, part camera technician and part artist. Noting the needs of the travelling photographer, the Michelin guidebooks of the day included an icon to indicate that a hotel had a chamber noir, ie a darkroom, available for developing film.

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY
Michelin Guidebook France/Trou

But by the end of the 19th century tourists could take their own pictures.In 1888, George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, invented a camera using a roll of film. He launched the first point-and-shoot with the now famous slogan: ‘You press the button, we do the rest.’ The camera came loaded with a 100-exposure film and a memorandum book that had to be filled into keep count of the photos. When the film was finished the camera was posted back to the factory. The camera was returned with the prints and loaded with a fresh roll of film. In the first year Eastman sold 13,000cameras.

Further refinements saw the introduction of the Kodak Brownie camera in 1900, which made the photographic process accessible to millions of people around the world. Photography had become a mass medium and tourists were travelling with small, easy-to-use cameras. According to some, by the start of the 20th century, the world had been photographed to death.

Kodak Brownie Target SIX-20 box camera/Kevin Stanchfield

Mr Benjamin and friends will be spinning in their graves when they get wind of recent Info Trends statistics that suggest over 500 billion digital photos will be taken in 2009. With the combination of affordable digital capture and the distribution powers of the internet, imagery is flooding the market like never before. It’s also interesting to consider the demands of the changing technology on the travel photographer. In a way it feels as though we’ve come full circle. For years, between the days of hotels with darkrooms and the advent of digital photography, all travel photographers had to carry was camera equipment and film.

We could concentrate on being adventurers and artists. The messy and cumbersome developing and printing process was left to technicians in photographic labs. Yes, we had to wait a day or two for our pictures, but when they came they were in neatly cut strips in filing sheets or in little boxes of 36 mounted slides. Now, just like the old days, we carry the digital equivalent of a darkroom everywhere we go and again do the processing ourselves; the wet plates, dishes and tanks replaced by memory cards, computers, storage devices, battery chargers, plugs and cables; the chemicals replaced by software.

Once again we have to complement our adventurous and artistic natures with additional skills, replacing the scientist and camera technician abilities of our predecessors with computer literacy and sophisticated software skills.

When choosing somewhere to stay we still look for a relevant icon – only now it indicates broadband internet or wi-fi access.

The Pyramids

f the world had been photographed to death a hundred years ago,imagine how it must feel now! We all know what world-famous destinations look like even if we haven’t been there ourselves. The content of our pictures rarely surprises the travel-savvy society we live in, yet images are published every year that cast new light on old subjects and push our visual awareness into new territory.

And so what if everyone you know has photographed the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids and the Eiffel Tower?There’s nothing quite like the thrill of seeing places yourself and making your own version of the ‘classic shot’. When you do, you’re making your own contribution to a genre of photography that has been around since the very first photograph.

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