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Black and White Photographs

The true history of photography begins in 1839 with the development of the daguerreotype in France by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. This primitive method captured images onto small silver-coated copper plates, producing just one permanent, irreproducible print. Already in November of 1839, an agent arrived in New York City to sell equipment for producing daguerreotypes. Within a few years nearly every city and small town had a photography studio, and rich and poor alike flocked to sit for their portrait. Exposure times for early photographic processes were quite long, and portraits often contain blurred images of sitters moving a head or an arm. A small number of daguerreotypes survive today, many of which are dotted with spots, streaks, and scratches, as seen in the images below.

Daguerreotypes Daguerreotypes Daguerreotypes

Daguerreotypes: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900, 1995

In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer developed the collodian process, which allowed unlimited positive prints to be produced from one negative glass plate image. The daguerreotype persisted throughout the decade but was eventually replaced by ArcherUs method. And in 1871, the gelatin dry plate method, developed by Richard Leach Maddox, required much shorter exposure times. At this time, one could finally hold the camera by hand, allowing a greater variety of images.

Circa 1860 Black and White Photograph

Circa 1860 Black and White Photograph: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the University of Vermont Special Collections

In 1888, the first Kodak camera was produced, which contained a 20-foot roll of paper that could take 100 circular images. An improved Kodak camera, using rolls of negative film instead of paper, hit the amateur market in 1889. In 1900, the Kodak Brownie Box camera hit the mass market, and average Americans were able to shoot photos like never before.

Round Kodak Photograph

Round Kodak Photograph: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the University of Vermont Archives

Improvements were made in film quality during the 20th century. The first high-quality 35mm camera was introduced around 1924, and the quality of photographic images appears to have increased quite a bit. Notice how much clearer the bottom image is in comparison to the top image.

1917 Black and White Photograph

1917 Black and White Photograph: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the Vermont Historical Society

1931 Black and White Photograph

1931 Black and White Photograph: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program and the University of Vermont Special Collections

The Polaroid camera, which instantly developed photographs, was invented in the 1940s. Polaroid images are easily recognizable by the heavy paper, thick white border, and wide white strip at the bottom for labeling. By the 1960s, color photography was replacing black and white.

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