8 – Your first essay (History assignment)

The early development of the camera

Archie Bean

In this assignment, I will be researching the early development of the camera. I will also be explaining how the camera’s changed, so the technology and the theories behind it and not just what happened. As well as this I will be seeking answers to some of my own questions so I can gain something out of this assignment on a personal level. I will be specifically looking to tread along the path towards the first moving image in 1878.

To start this assignment, I need to go all the way back to the development of the first ever photograph before I can dig deeper into how moving images were achieved. So the man responsible for the first ever photograph was a Frenchman named Joseph Nicephore Niepce and he captured the first ever photograph in 1826/27. The photograph was taken from behind one of Niepce’s upstairs windows and shows the view from that particular window which shows some houses and a pathway or as he called it ‘the barn’. And it is entitled ‘The view from the window at Le Gras’.

So how was the photograph taken? Niepce used the term ‘Heliography’ to describe how he took the first ever photograph, a term that he invented. At this point I would not be able to continue as I do not understand what the term Heliography means. So what is Heliography?

Heliography is a process that uses sunlight to create photographs. Firstly you mix powdered bitumen of Judea with water. This creates a thick tar like substance that in this case Niepce painted onto a flat pewter plate. This substance has to cover the whole surface. Then you need to heat up the substance onto the plate. Once dried, the plate needs to be placed into a camera. Then in Niepce’s case, the exposure was eight hours long. Following this, the plate is then washed using a mixture of oil lavender and white petroleum. This is done in order to dissolve away the parts of the bitumen that have not been hardened by sunlight. After this you can then Look at the image and see that the lighter shades are represented by the hardened bitumen layers and the darker shades are represented by the bare metal. But the photograph or heliograph is not complete because it needs to be removed from the liquid and dried on a drying rack. The term ‘Helios’ means sun in Greek, and ‘Graphos’ means writing in Greek.

So how did Niepce know the combinations of mixtures needed to create a heliograph? Did he get lucky? No. bitumen of Judea dated back to the ancient Egyptians and was used to make lithographic engravings.

Something that has puzzled me over the first photograph is ‘why is ‘the view from the window at Le Gras’ hailed as the first ever photograph?’ This puzzles me because one or two years previously in 1825, Niepce made a heliograph of a man leading a horse and 3 years prior to that he made a heliograph of Pope Puis VII. The previous two heliographs no longer exist, so we cannot study them and consider them as the first photographs as we have no evidence that they were the first, because the heliograph of Pope Puis VII was destroyed in an attempt to replicate it, whereas the view from the window at Le Gras is on display at the ransom centre.

From 1826 and Niepce’s heliograph, it took 52 years before the first moving picture came about. So what happened between these two historical events?

Because this assignment is about ‘Film’ I will not talk too much about ‘Photography’ so one major event in the early development of the camera between these two dates was Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre’s invention of the ‘Daguerreotype’. The daguerreotype was a process that ended with an image that was printed onto a sheet of copper plated with a thin coat of silver. It was a more advanced way of taking ‘photographs’ rather than heliographs. It was also a more successful way of taking photographs as it did not require the multiple hour long exposure and daguerreotype shops opened up, with New York City alone having 70 shops.

So how do these images differ from those of Nicephore Niepce?

The daguerreotypes went through a different process to end up with photographs. Louis’ patients would sit down on a chair which was on a raised platform and in a room that would let in allot of light. The head of the patient would have been held still by a clamp. After all of this, a silver coated copper plate would be polished in order to make the surface reflective. It would then be sensitized using chloride of iodine and chloride of bromine. The plate would need to have a yellow like appearance, which was don by placing it in a closed box over iodine. The plate would then be carefully placed in the camera without letting in light. Once the photograph had been taken then the plate would be developed over hot mercury, this was followed by the plate being fixed using sodium thiosulfate or salt and gold chloride. The final daguerreotype was covered by a sheet of protective glass and placing them in a frame or a case before giving them to the customer. The exposure times for early daguerreotype’s were between 3 and 15 minutes.

The first moving image is credited to Eadweard Muybridge who in 1878, managed to take the first moving image which is of a horse jumping. So why did Muybridge want to try and take the first moving image? Well in 1872, Muybridge was contacted by Leland Stanford to take photographs of horses because he made a bet that all four of a horse’s feet are off the ground simultaneously, so he hired Muybride.

But why did it take Muybridge so long to do so? Muybridge became distracted as to the fact that his wife had taken a lover, and Muybridge ended up killing him. So Muybridge left San Francisco and spent two years in Guatemala.

So how did Muybridge manage to achieve this task? When Muyrdge returned, he hung a white background cloth against a long wall and lined up a row of camera’s with tripwires, and the camera’s would take a picture for a split second as the horse ran by. The camera’s were at a shutter speed of less than 1/2000 of a second. And strings attached to electric switches were stretched across the track and attached to the camera shutters. When running past, the horse would snap the strings and trigger the shutters. And Leland was right, all four of the horse’s feet are not touching the ground simultaneously.

When was the first movie ever made?

There are several answers to this question because there are several types of movies so I will provide the rundown on all of the legitimate answers.

Following Muybridge’s success with taking the first moving image, there were several other moving images made as a result of that. The first of which was ten years after Muybridge’s horse image. It was entitled ‘The Roundhay Garden Scene’. It lasts for about two seconds an it is a French made film featuring Louis Le Prince, a French inventor and some of his family.

Another possible response to this question is W.K.L Dickson and William Heise’s 1889 short ‘Monkeyshines. No 1’ which feautures one of the two or if not, both of whom goofing off infront of the camera. This film was shot in a different way compared to Roundhay Garden Scene as it was shot with a long strip of film.

Fred Ott’s ‘Sneeze’ of 1894 is also a contender for first ever movie because it was the first movie that involved copyright. This movie was made at Thomas Edison’s Black Maria rooftop studio.

Furthermore, the Lumiere brothers created potentially the first film ever as their film of workers leaving the Lumiere factory was the first film that was ever made for projection. In March 1895, the Lumiere brothers held a private screening of projected movies. The films were screened in a café in Paris and thirty three paid to attend the private screening of films. The screening featured 10 short films, each of which being 46 seconds long.

Finally, the last contenders for ‘The first movie ever’ are the Sklandanowsky brothers who used the Bioskop, something the pair invented. The Bioskop camera uses two parallel film strips and two lenses. These had the capability to project images onto a screen at a rate of 16 frames per second. During the Berlin Wintergarten festival, the Sklandanowky brothers presented their films.

At the end of this assignment, I feel that if someone asked me about how film started, then I would be able to provide a strong answer to the question. I now have a greater knowledge of Photography and Film during the 19th century. So I have also built up my knowledge as in previous ears of Photography, we did not cover much about past years of photography. So I have learned new things and considering I love history, it means that I have enjoyed and appreciated learning something new because to me it is like a book, despite taking place already, I don’t know how Photography started and I want to know, which I now know better.

List of websites used

http://agonistica.com/the-story-of-the-first-photograph-ever-taken/ – Agonistica

http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/windows/southeast/eadweard_muybridge.html – Harry Ransom, University of Texas

http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/firstphotograph/ – Harry Ransom, University of Texas



http://www.photohistory-sussex.co.uk/dagprocess.htm – Mark Osterman

http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/windows/southeast/eadweard_muybridge.html – Harry Ransom, University of Texas

http://voices.yahoo.com/the-first-movie-ever-made-history-film-firsts-679245.html?cat=37 – Will Wright

Links to historical pictures




Aside | This entry was posted in Assignments, Year1 Assignments. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 8 – Your first essay (History assignment)

  1. kendalcollegefilm says:

    Alright Archie – I think this is a strong Merit-level essay. You have done a huge amount of research, and this research has led to some excellent facts which you have presented in a very competent manner. Your conversational writing style works quite well by asking and answering questions, and I think this will be the key to improving your grades towards distinction – instead of asking WHEN and WHAT, you need to start asking HOW and WHY.

    Your timeline is good, but there are some missing sections: you don’t talk about how Muybridge actually displayed his moving images, and then you move straight to the films made by Le Prince and the Lumiere brothers without discussing their technology. This is important because technology has been the focus of your essay. These omissions and a lack of more detailed analysis prevent this from being a Distinction level piece right now, but you’re well on the way.

    Okay: references. If you’re using someone else’s ideas in your own words, you need to reference the author of the data and the year of the work at the end of the sentence, like this (Sylvester 2013). Your bibliography then has all those authors listed alphabetically, with the full source. Be very careful of Wikipedia. It’s a good place to start and discover other sources, but it’s too unreliable.

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