History of Alternative processes

A work in progress. Any historians out there with their finger on the facts should feel free to add to this timeline. Send an email to us with your five cents.

Writers / Anita Chernewski, Spike MacGee, Sean




Gemma FrisusThe first picture of a pinhole camera obscura is a drawing by Gemma Frisus’ De Radio, an astronomer. He used the pinhole in his darkened room to study the solar eclipse of 1544.




Johann Schultze, a German physicist discovered that silver salts reacted to light.
  Da VinciLeonardo da Vinci gave a clear description of the Camera Obscura in the 16th century.

Drawing by Brook Taylor




Camera Lucida – A lightweight drawing aid that was patented 1806 by British Scientist William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828). It was a “light room” consisting of a rod to which a glass prism was affixed. The glass prism had two sides that reflected the scene at which it was aimed.


Using ‘ heliography‘ Niépce produced the first photograph from nature. He photographed his courtyard at his estate in Le Gras. It was taken with a Camera Obscura ad the exposure time was eight hours. The sun had time to move across the courtyard in that time, which is why the shadows are visible on both sides.


Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, also French, was the inventor of the Diorama – a panoramic light show used for entertainment. He wanted to find a way for images to “record themselves”. He sought out Niépce and together they abandoned Heliography and began research silver iodide, which is light-sensitive.


Niépce dies and Daguerre continues the work some time after his death.


An Englishman, William Henry Fox Talbot, works in a similar way to Wedgewood and produces paper coated with silver nitrate or silver chloride exposing it with a Camera Obscura. Like Niépce, he is able to produce a negative image, but he also realizes that he can contact print it and make a positive image.


Talbots oldest surviving negative Lattice Window is produced at his home at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire. He calls it a ‘ calotype‘. Talbot is often called ‘The Father of Photography’ on account of the discovery that a negative can form a positive and then be reproduced, which is the basis of photography today… well, not counting digital photography.


Daguerre makes one of the earliest ‘silver iodide images’ which he calls Daguerrotypes. The quality is fine and exposure times ‘only’ minutes.


StereoscopeSir Charles Wheatstone publicly presents his reflectin.

stereoscope to the Royal Society in London. Later Sir David Brewster introduced a compact lenticular version of the stereoscope at the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851.
This allowed the viewing of 3D stereoscopic slides to become the most popular and pervasive manner of experiencing photographic images in the Victorian era.

Image: Children using a Holmes stereoscope (c. 1880)


France: The invention of Daguerrotypes is publicly announced, sold to the French government and released to the public.


England: Talbot hears of Daguerre’s work and produces a paper on his calotype or Talbotype process.


England: John Herschel (1792 – 1871) managed to
fix pictures using hyposulphite of soda.


John Herschel (1792 – 1871) introduces the cyanotype process, also known as the blueprint process.

Kallitype printing is found in Sir John Herschel’s paper On the Action of the Rays of the Solar Spectrum on Vegetable Colours, and on Some New Photographic Processes.


In October 1843 Anna Atkins (1799-1871) became the first person to print and publish a photographically illustrated book, using 424 cyanotypes (or as they were known then: “shadowgraphs”). The book was called “British Algae: Cyanotype impressions”. It was printed privately and issued in several parts over ten years. Her book therefore precedes Fox Talbot’s own Pencil of Nature in 1844.

Image above: Anna Atkins Asplenium Marinium; British, 1853


Henry Fox Talbot publishes Pencil of Nature.


Frederick Scott Archer published details of the
wet collodion process, this produced a grainless glass negative capable of making sharp prints, on salt or albumen paper.


Introduction of the dry plate process in the 1880s.


Pinhole cameraPinhole camera from french designers Messrs. Dehors and Deslanders.


W. W. J. Nicol patented the first iron-silver process and he is widely considered to be the inventor of the kallitype. In Nicol’s original patent, the print was developed in a silver nitrate bath. He patented several revisions in the early 1890s and in one of these formulas he recommends using silver nitrate in the sensitizer rather than in the developer. This last revision is the method used by most contemporary kallitype printers.


  Pixie multipinholePIXIE multipinhole camera is used in space by NASA taking pinhole images of our universe. Stationed on the Polar Spacecraft.


VermeerThis camera dates from 1934 and was invented by Anson Cross to teach painting in a manner that he thought Vermeer used. more info

Anita Chernewski is a pinhole artist and expert. Take a look at Anita’s gallery.
Spike MacGee is a freelance copywriter with a strong interest in the alternative processes.
Sean prefers to remain anonymous.

Leave a Comment