In the 1870s, photography took another huge leap forward. Richard Maddox improved on a previous invention to make dry gelatine plates that were nearly equal with wet plates for speed and quality. These dry plates could be stored rather than made as needed. This allowed photographers much more freedom in taking photographs. Cameras were also able to be smaller so that they could be hand-held. As exposure times decreased, the first camera with a mechanical shutter was developed.
Both the American West and photography came of age in the nineteenth century. The West had long captivated the American imagination, but U.S. expansion in the region did not commence in earnest until the 1840s. By then, vague notions of a unified American continent had taken an aggressive and nationalistic turn. Americans believed that providential necessity destined the United States to push its border west to the Pacific Ocean and settle the continent.
At the same time, American men of science were engaged in learning and improving the new medium of photography. It was first introduced on the East Coast of the United States in 1839; by the early 1840s, photographers were at work making views in the Trans-Mississippi West. Photography would become a crucial medium in shaping American conceptions of the region after 1860.
Photography was only for professionals or the very rich until George Eastman started a company called Kodak in the 1880s. Eastman created a flexible roll film that did not require the constant changing of solid plates. This allowed him to develop a self-contained box camera that held 100 exposures of film. This camera had a small single lens with no focusing adjustment. The consumer would take pictures and then send the camera back to the factory to for the film to be developed, much like our disposable cameras today. This was the first camera inexpensive enough for the average person to afford. The film was still large in comparison to today's... [continues]
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