Why has our book got so few photographs in it?

Yes, Pam and I have almost finished writing our book, Enquiring History: Italian Unification 1815-1871 (£)
The proofs went off yesterday and they’re beginning to look really good (I would say that, I guess).  Our lovely editor, Ian Dawson, asked us to explain why there are so few photographs in our book.

The reason is simple – events in Italy were taking place just as the first commercial photographic processes were being invented and popularised. The first process, which Louis Daguerre and his partner Joseph Niépce had been working on used bithumen, and later silver iodide, coated metal plates. These were bulky and difficult to transport. Daguerre’s process, which was announced to the world from Paris in 1839, was taken up by Henry Fox-Talbot who used it to create ‘negative’ images on film and paper from which, whilst less bulky was still difficult to use and which required people to stand very still whilst the photograph was being taken.

Photography came to Italy quite quickly. In 1851 Robert Macpherson using glass plates coated in different mixtures of light sensitive chemicals and egg white or gelatine, took up photography in Rome and for about 10 years made good money selling pictures of architecture to the tourists who visited the city. However, the growing instability that led to the events after 1859 made it much harder for him to make a living. We haven’t used any of his pictures because they used long exposure times, and therefore Macpherson didn’t take many pictures of individuals, and none of ‘events’.

It wasn’t until 1884 – just after the events in this book – that George Eastman, inventor of the Kodak camera, started to sell dry photographic film that gave amateur and professional photographers and easy way to take pictures without having to transport bulky chemicals.

Further Reading

Photography and Italy (Exposures) by Antonia Pelizzari (£)


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