In the Eye of the Camera, 1840-1867
Nora Hague, McCord Museum, 2003
The art of photography is not very old. It was born in 1826, when Nicéphore Niepce, after years of experimentation, finally succeeded in making a fuzzy permanent photographic image of his courtyard on a piece of asphalt-coated pewter with an exposure of eight hours. By 1839 it had grown into a troublesome child - the daguerreotype, an image formed on a silver-coated copper plate. Daguerreotypes, set in hinged cases, were available to anyone with the means to afford them. By the 1850s new and cheaper forms of photography had arrived: the ambrotype and tintype. The revolutionary concept of producing a positive print by means of a wet-plate negative became the norm. The dry plate, which made its appearance in the 1880s, was much easier to handle than the wet plate and by the 20th century, heavy, fragile glass negatives had given way to flexible film. Today negatives, too, have been superseded - by digital images, which have their own advantages and disadvantages. Moreover, photography has become such an integral part of modern life that most people have a hard time imagining a world without it. Having your photograph taken in the 1860s was not the same the experience it was in 1845, and today it is something else again.