In Paris in 1839, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre introduced the photographic process now known as the daguerreotype. The process was complicated, requiring lots of equipment and handling of chemicals, but was embraced quickly. Each daguerreotype was unique and recorded scenes with excellent detail. It also allowed people to travel with cameras.
The first owners photographed their local area: Notre Dame Cathedral, the River Seine and the Pont Neuf; subjects that are considered a ‘must take’ by today’s tourists. The appeal of photography was as obvious to travellers in the middle of the 19th century as it is today. Daguerre himself suggested that his camera could easily be taken along on a journey. He was right, bu tit wasn’t quite that simple. The travelling photographer also had to carry a portable darkroom tent and enough chemicals to stock a small laboratory.
Around the same time, William Henry Fox Talbot, Daguerre’s English contemporary, invented the calotype (better known today as a negative).This made multiple copies of an image possible, but without the detail achieved in a daguerreotype.
In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer invented the wet collodion plate, which became the standard photographic process until 1880. This new process,which reduced exposure times to a mere two seconds, matched the detail possible with a daguerreotype and the calotype’s ability to be reproduced,and overcame the long exposure times required by both. It didn’t, however,ease the burden for the travel photographer. Each glass plate had to be prepared in the field and processed immediately while still damp.