‘Family Photos Now and Then.’
Once upon a time, many years ago in a provincial bus station where people would wait for a National Express coach to Sunderland (other destinations were/are available), there inevitably existed a photobooth. Located somewhere in a draughty corner, close to the tobacconists booth. Booths were very big back then you see; despite being physically very small. Yet few things were more compact than your average photobooth. Even portaloos were more accomodating. But what you couldn’t get in a portaloo was a reel of 4 or 5 snapshots focusing explicitly on the top of your head, set against a non-descript red curtain. Or a blindingly light white backdrop, if you wished to look like someone who was having an ‘out of body’ experience at the time of photographic reckoning.
If you were one of the fortunate ones, the top of your head wouldn’t be blurry. Which meant that the adjustable stool you perched on in the photobooth (which supposedly could realign to take into account your individual height when seated; and which you lined up with eyes in the camera-secreting mirror) obviously hadn’t slipped at the crucial moment of the irreversible pre-photo countdown. Of course, none of the applied techniques or timing accuracy mattered a jot, as your new passport photo was pre-destined to make you look like one of those people you’d regularly see depicted on a photofit during the BBC’s Crimewatch programme at best. That was a given. Or worse still, a local drugs overlord, caught in the act.
Going Back to the Family Photos Future. Only Without a DeLorean. And a Rapidly Fading Pic
But we’re reminiscing even further back than that in this latest DT blog, as we pictorially recap how family photos as we know them today, actually came to be. Be invented, basically. Or as a more snappy title, ‘Family Photos Timeline’.
Our whistlestop visual tour of ‘what was, very much is and what could be in the future’ of family photos, takes in the original art portraits of the Victorian era, sepia-esque captures of very stern-expressioned folk standing awkwardly in front of their fireplaces, 80s Polaroids, the abovementioned photobooths, the advent of the digital camera and today’s state-of-the-art, pixel-laden smartphones. Thankfully you’ll be pleased to learn that we’ve swerved any memories of our dads’ overhead projector slideshows, which he traditionally ‘treated’ us to as a means of oversharing your summer holiday family photos each year if you were a child of the 70s.
Cue a collective sigh of relief all round.
Tell Me; Where Did It All Begin?
So, right about now you’ll probably be asking where it all began? The ‘it’ being family photos. Or rather, what came to bear as the family photos we know and love today. Well let us put you in the picture. Portrait photography as such (that’s pretty much the genesis of family photos) has been around over 175 years now, during which passage of time constant evolution has ensured that what we see today is as realistic as the subject matter themselves. Yes, even the uncle nobody likes to talk about can appear as though they are in the flesh at Christmas. With visually-added creepiness, courtesy of the quality of HD and mega pixels available to us amateur lensmeisters.
But our even more distant relatives didn’t always have it that good. Far from it, in fact, as pre-the invention of photography as we recognise it, the only viable means to capturing the likeness of your nearest and dearest was to employ the services of Gainsborough and Holbein. The great portrait painters of their day. And not only did they cost a fortune to hire, if they accidently messed up their watercolour representation of your loved one, there was fat chance it could be retouched by an image editor. Because they hadn’t yet been invented neither.
Thankfully just in the nick of time along came HRH Queen Vicky, the 1850s and the photographic revolution. Which was similar to the more famous industrial one, only with less stove hats and canals. Legend has it that Victoria Monarchy and her consort embraced the new photographic tech with the sort of enthusiasm today’s youngsters have for Snapchat. Notably every regal coming and going was commited to photographic print.
Essentially, Queen V was a geek.
Family Photos Were Invented by Greek Philosophers, Weren’t They? I knew it….
However actual photography was kinda invented (in a fashion. Or at least, in principle) a very long time before the Victorians got in on the act. As far back as the 5th Century, for all you budding historians out there (please see below). With both the Greeks and Chinese claiming bragging rights from the outset (origins of which have been subsequently substantiated).
Naturally the first time most of us would come across the existence of family photos began and ended with the systematic archiving process, by way of sticking individual examples in a leather-bound album under the watchful eye of a parental figure. And which at some later point in our formative years be ceremoniously dragged out whenever we introduced a new girl/boyfriend to our parents.
The Who, What, When, Where, Which and Why of Family Photos History
5th Century BC – Both Greek philosophers and Chinese explain the fundamentals of optics and the camera. Albeit in theory
4th Century BC – Greeks go one better, as Aristotle describes pinhole image formation in his work. Greece 1 – China 0
1021 AD – An Iraqi scientist called Alhazen invents the camera obscura, which he cites in his book of optics. Not sure if it made the Amazon bestseller book list or not
1664 – 1672 – Then there was a bit of a gap before Isaac Newton (yeah, apple, tree, etc) discovered that white light is composed from different colours. By refracting said light off a prism
1685 – Bloke going by the name of Johann Zahn invented the box form of a camera. Or rather, he had a vision of a compact, portable unit, which was then another 150 years in the making as he/the world waited for the appropriate technology to arrive
1837 – Another short break in photography invention, before Frenchman, Joseph Nicephore Niepce (who had previously invented a wood camera equipped with a microscopic lens, as well as a Heliograph), collaborated with Louis Daguerre. Who history recalls fondly as the man who invented the first practical photographic process. And which was widely used in portraiture until the mid 1850s
1839 – Fox Talbot (chap, not animal) presented his ‘negative’ images (which had to be printed via a similar process to produce the final ‘positive’) to the Royal Institution and the Royal Society. Revolutionary as a number of positive prints can be crafted from a single negative, and hence the gasps drawn from the assembled throng
1841 – Daguerre is now getting up to speed with his one-off photographs, produced on a silvered copper plate and patented, ‘Daguerreotypes’. Costing 1 guinea a pop, put them beyond the financial clout of only the most elite families. From mid-1850s onwards, they were usurped by cheaper photographic formats. Naming no names, but we’re referring to the 1852-borne ambrotypes (collodion positives). Which proved very popular at 1 shilling a throw, and remained in circulation until around 1890
1860s onwards – Card-mounted prints emerged as the next big thing in family photos terms, and ushered in the dawn of the ‘cartomania’ phenomenon. On the back of these aesthetically-considered pieces, the very first purpose-designed photograph albums came into being in the early 1860s
1861 – Scottish physicist, James Clerk Maxwell produced the first colour photograph
1870s – The invention of tintypes, or ferrotypes (a photographic image struck directly onto an iron plate), afforded many more ordinary people the opportunity to buy into the family photos boom. Costing the equivalent of just a few pence, this process favoured images which witnessed Victorians at play. Primarily outdoor scenes, including bathing and fairgrounds.
1884 – The Leitz Camera company of Germany, gave the world of family photos the Leica. A name which is still to this very day synonymous with visual quality
1888 – Kodak invented its first camera, and the rest is family photos history. Well, not quite. Dreamed up and marketed by former New york bank clerk, George Eastman, this simple box camera came pre-loaded with 100-exposure roll of celluloid-based film. Which was an absolute game-changer. Once the roll was finished, the camera in its entirity was sent back to the factory, reloaded and returned to the customer whilst the roll was being developed. And still days before Boots….
1923 – Photobooth invented by Anatol Josepho, with first curtain-installed version springing up on Broadway street two years later. 25 cents was exchanged for 8 printed photos, in the aftermath of a development process which lasted 10 minutes. Some 280,000 people gave it a whirl in the first 6 months, and were (inadvertently) responsible for the world’s first selfies. And as a tragic by-product, Kim Kardashian and co….
1948 – The Polaroid Model 95 was launched. The world’s first viable instant-picture camera. The Model 95 used a patented chemical process to produce finished positive prints from the exposed negatives in sub-one minute times. If you shook it frantically, even quicker
1975 – Kodak continue to get its game face on, and courtesy of engineer, Steven Sasson, they invent the world’s first digital camera
1980s – Polaroid launched Polaroid 635 Supercolor instant camera. Characterised by rainbow stripe on front and massive flash box on top. And the fact that it allowed you to capture incriminating evidence of your fashion faux pas during your last summer holiday
1990 – Hello family photo retouching! Yup, Adobe create Photoshop 1.0. The image manipulator’s image manipulation programme bar none, and still as relevent today as it was back then
1992 – Tim Berners-Lee drops his WWW bombshell (after developing required software and protocol), which allows image retouchers to go into business
2007 – Apple employee, Steve Jobs invents the iPhone. Which included an in-built camera function. Complete with intuitive downloading and sharing tools. Portrayed a few years later by Ashton Kutcher (every silver lining, etc)….
2016 – iPhone 7 introduces latest smartphone camera technology. A camera which packs a 6 element lens and a 12-megapixel sensor, no less
Footnote: Retro photobooth-generated photos are seeing something of a rennaisance amongst the wedding photo fraternity in recent years, as a nostalgic tip to yesteryear.