PHOTOGRAPHIC INDUSTRY. In 1839 the Frenchman Louis J. M. Daguerre introduced in Paris the first commercial photographic process, the daguerreotype. This novel process used a camera to produce unique positive images on silvered plates. Because of the perishability of the photosensitive materials and the complexity of the process, the practice of daguerreotypy, which soon became popular in the United States, was restricted to technically oriented persons who produced their own photosensitive materials at the site of the picture-taking. Daguerreotypists obtained the optical apparatus from small optical instrument makers and chemical supplies from chemical manufacturers. Within a decade the number
of professional daguerreotypists and specialized photographic supply houses had multiplied in the larger cities.
During the mid-1850s a variety of wet collodion processes replaced the daguerreotype. Fluid collodion served as carrier for the photosensitive halogen salts. The photographer flowed the salted collodion onto glass for direct positive images in the ambrotype process, onto japanned iron plates for direct positive images in the tintype process, and onto glass for the popular negative-positive process. The perishability of the photosensitive negative and positive materials confined their production to professional photographers.
The tintype became the most successful—and most distinctively American—style of photograph during this period. Small tintype medals of the presidential candidates widely distributed in the campaign of 1860 first brought national recognition, but the tremendous popularity of the tintype occurred during the Civil War, when itinerant photographers made prodigious numbers of small tintypes in oval cutout mounts, known as "gems."
Changing technology influenced many of the small producers of supplies for the photographer: for example, the Scovill Manufacturing Company of Waterbury, Conn., the principal American producer of unsensitized daguerreotype plates, shifted its product line. While small producers of such new photographic supplies as tintype plates and unsensitized print paper did emerge in the 1860s and 1870s, the most powerful firms in the industry were the Anthony and the Scovill companies, which dominated the jobbing function in photographic supplies and in producing photographic papers, chemicals, cameras, and albums.
In the early 1880s dry gelatin supplanted wet collodion as the carrier of photosensitive salts on negative glass plates, which preserved the photosensitivity of the halogen salts for many months. This change permitted centralized factory production of photosensitive materials for the first time. The industry's traditional marketing and production companies did not take the lead in producing plates and papers, allowing new firms to seize production leadership—Cramer, Seed, and Hammer in Saint Louis; American Aristotype in Jamestown, N.Y.; Eastman in Rochester, N.Y.; Stanley in Boston; and Nepera Chemical in Yonkers, N.Y. The technical complexities still deterred most people from practicing photography.
In 1884 George Eastman, despairing of the intense price competition in the dry-plate market, sought with William H. Walker, a Rochester camera maker, to develop an alternative to dry plates. Improving substantially on Leon Warnerke's commercially unsuccessful system, they introduced in 1885 a roll-film system. In 1888 he addressed the enormously large and previously untapped mass amateur market by isolating the technical complexities from picture taking. He added to the company's established production of photosensitive materials by designing a simple-to-operate, highly portable roll-film camera, the Kodak, and by providing factory service that included the unloading and reloading of the camera with film and the developing and printing of the pictures. With a highly successful advertising campaign featuring the slogan "Youpress the button—we do the rest, " Eastman inaugurated photography for novices and revolutionized the industry. During the next decade the company introduced numerous improvements, including a Celluloid base for film and daylight-loading film cartridges. The company's tight patent control on the film system and its policy of continuous innovation helped it establish and maintain market dominance.
As Eastman Kodak grew in size, it sought to broaden and strengthen its nonamateur product line by acquiring, during the decade from 1898 to 1908, a number of photographic-paper, plate-camera, and dry-plate companies. Despite a number of large competitors—including Ansco, Defender, Cramer, and Hammer in the United States; Ilford in Britain; and AGFA in Germany—Eastman Kodak held a substantial market share at home and abroad by 1910 and maintained it by emphasizing product quality, innovations, and patents. In recognition of the increasing importance of chemistry and physics to the industry, Eastman established in 1912 the Eastman Kodak Research Laboratory, directed by the British photochemist C. E. Kenneth Mees. Within a decade of its founding the laboratory began to have a direct influence on the output of the Eastman Kodak production lines.
The introduction of the roll-film system stimulated the development of cinematographic apparatus. Early in the twentieth century, concurrent with the rapid growth of amateur photography, an American cinematographic industry began to emerge, with innovators in projection equipment assuming the initial leadership. At the end of the first decade of the century a number of firms producing apparatus and commercial films combined their patents and other assets to form the Motion Picture Patents Company. It sought to limit competition in the motion picture industry, but adverse court decisions in an anti-trust suit and a series of product and marketing innovations brought the organization's demise within a decade. Large new corporations that integrated production, distribution, and exhibition functions emerged by 1920 as the new leaders of the cinematographic industry. These included Paramount, Fox, and Loew. The introduction of sound films in the late 1920s altered this structure somewhat as the innovators, Warner and RKO, joined the small group of leaders.
Meanwhile, the rapidly growing demand for raw cine film greatly stimulated Eastman Kodak's film production, where the production of cine film substantially exceeded the production for still photography after 1910. Although the company carefully avoided entry into the professional cine field, the territory of its largest customers, it introduced home movie equipment with nonflammable film in the early 1920s. In the late 1920s the company developed and introduced a series of color processes for motion pictures.
During the middle 1940s the motion picture industry enjoyed its greatest success, but soon the introduction of television inaugurated a quarter-century of decline. In response the industry introduced spectaculars; three-dimensional and wide screen productions; new exhibition methods, such as drive-in and shopping-center theaters to replace the giant downtown movie palaces of an earlier era; and, later, low-budget, sensational movies featuring sexuality and violence.
In still photography between World War I and World War II the German industry began to compete with the American. German camera makers, influenced by cinematography, introduced in the early 1920s small 35-mm cameras that appealed to journalists and serious amateur photographers. Also, in the late 1920s Ansco, which had faltered since its founding because of limited capital and technical resources, sold its assets to the I. G. Farben-Industrie and became the American outlet for the research-oriented German photographic industry. During World War II the U.S. government assumed ownership and operation of the firm, and the government relinquished ownership only in 1965, when the firm became a public corporation, General Aniline and Film (GAF).
Professional photographers were typically in the forefront of technology and trends. To compensate for the disappearance of skilled portraiture and documentation in the wake of the 35-mm revolution, photographers turned to publishing and advertising. Their favorite camera was a 2-inch format equipped with motor drives, multiple lenses, and sophisticated lighting devices. Fine-art photographers devoted considerable energy to experimenting with equipment, format, film, and paper, and their subjects tended toward the eclectic. Beginning in the late 1940s, they attempted to capture "private realities, " a quest drawing inspiration from Eastern religious philosophies, psychoanalytic theory, and abstract expressionist painting. Its popularity in the United States stemmed from the postwar economic boom, the ability of former military personnel to attend art schools at federal expense, and the founding of the Institute of Design, the Western Hemisphere's version of the Bauhaus, which advocated a "new vision" of interpreting common places in personal ways.
The straight tradition popularized by Edward Weston remained the dominant but far from the only style in professional photography in the late twentieth century. A gifted photographer, educator, and author, Minor White encouraged his followers to reveal "things for what they are." His advocacy of the "equivalent image" produced a cultlike following from the 1960s into the 1990s. With large-format cameras, White's followers photographed such natural phenomena as gnarled trees, tumultuous ocean waves, and dewtinged leaves and petals. Photographers like Walter Chappell and Paul Caponigro struggled to evoke the mystic divinity of nature itself.
Photographers took to the streets in the 1950s and 1960s using handheld units to frame reality with sardonic or ironic twists. Like the painter Andy Warhol, they opted for the vernacular and emblems of popular culture. Modern masters like William Klein, Garry Winogrand, and William Wegman chose human (and in Wegman's case, canine) interaction among artifacts, whereas Elliott Erwitt, who began capturing everyday scenes from around the world in the late 1940s, preferred symbols largely free of human encroachment.
Within the American photographic industry, five developments in the post–World War II period were of particular importance. First, Eastman Kodak, as a result of its research and development, successfully introduced and promoted color-print photography. Second, Japan, manufacturer of high-quality miniature cameras for the serious amateur photographer, developed a dominant influence in that specialized sector of the market. Third, in 1948 the Polaroid Corporation introduced a new system of photography that produced finished prints direct from the camera that was well-protected by a system of patents. Fourth, Eastman Kodak, in response to the Polaroid challenge, introduced a series of Instamatic camera systems that further simplified negative-positive picture-taking. Fifth, electronic cameras, introduced in the early to mid-1990s, became increasingly sophisticated and easy to use, producing high-resolution photos and spelling the end of film photographic processes in certain quarters, notably news coverage. In 1987, for example, United Press International and Associated Press, the largest news wire services in the United States, began transmitting pictures electronically. Four of these five developments reflect the importance of the research-and-development strategies and of the mass amateur-market emphasis of the American industry in its maintenance of international dominance despite the competitive efforts of German and Japanese firms.
Combined, these developments made photography increasingly easy for unskilled practitioners at the end of the twentieth century. Affordable 35-mm compact automatics and high-quality digital cameras had become widely available. Photographic images in silver, color dyes, and printers' ink, along with sophisticated home computers capable of processing and manipulating digital images, had spread around the world. Innovations in moving film made faraway events accessible through simultaneous broadcast. These technological improvements in cameras and in their supporting infrastructures have under girded the achievements of all photographers since the 1970s. The single-lens reflex camera became smaller and more reliable, with large-format cameras revamped to fit the computer age. In 1972 the Polaroid camera was improved with the SX-70 system, which was in turn supplanted by the 600 system, featuring automatic focus, electronic flash, and battery together with high-speed color film. In the last quarter of the twentieth century both black-and-white and color-positive-and-negative film vastly improved in speed and resolution. Infrared film sensitive to light invisible to the human eye had wide use in science. In the 1990s both AGFA and Ilford marketed
wide-latitude film that joined dye couplers with silver halides to form images.
Still-picture versions of camcorders or video cameras (which themselves gained wide use as observation and surveillance tools in prisons, hospitals, courts, schools, and banks and were employed to help diagnose injuries and perform such surgery as laparoscopy) came into being, and digital cameras enabled photographers to store pictures on computer chips, which can be downloaded and tinkered with on a personal computer, obviating the need for the darkroom. Digital imaging and computer manipulation of photos led to the use of faked and "enhanced" pictures in magazines, on television, and in newspapers. A 1994 Time magazine cover featured a digitally altered image of O. J. Simpson's mug shot, taken when he was arrested for the murder of his former wife and one of her friends. Among applications by the scientific community was the use in 1994 of digital image processing of conventional photographs to reveal detailed views of the sun's corona during an eclipse.
The high cost of digital cameras through the mid-to late-1990s delayed their widespread use, but a rapid drop in prices in the late 1990s and early 2000s, coupled with a rapid increase in the memory and resolution capabilities of affordable digital cameras, created a booming market for amateur digital cameras and to industry predictions that they were poised to do to the traditional silver halide photography market what camcorders did to Super-8 home movies.
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