Thursday, July 17, 2008

Early photographs of California

Thomas Wells "Sonora, California"

"Giant Sequoias at Calaveras Big Trees Grove"

"Calaveras Big Tree Grove Hotel"

The albumen print, also called albumen silver print, was invented in 1850 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard, and was the first commercially exploitable method of producing a photographic print on a paper base from a negative. It used the albumen found in egg whites to bind the photographic chemicals to the paper and became the dominant form of photographic positives from 1855 to the turn of the century, with a peak in 1860-90. This new medium was quickly adopted to show the natural beauty of places such as Yosemite National Park, and rapidly growing urban areas, such as San Francisco.

And, many advances to photography in the United States occurred in Northern California. In 1897, Arthur G. Pillsbury, a student at Stanford University, invented the circuit panorama camera. He used this revolutionary camera to record the gold rush in the Yukon and the San Francisco earthquake and resulting fire of 1906. He would later invent the first time-lapse camera in 1912 to demonstrate the growth of plants.
One of the most important moments of photographic history also happened in the San Francisco bay area. In 1872, Leland Stanford, a businessman, race-horse owner and former California governor, had taken a position on a popularly-debated question of the day: whether all four of a horse's hooves left the ground at the same time during a gallop. Stanford sided with this assertion that they did, called “unsupported transit,” and decided to find scientific proof to back his theory. Stanford hired the San Francisco photograph Eadweard Muybridge to settle the issue. To prove Stanford’s claim, Muybridge worked with John D. Isaacs, the chief engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, to develop a scheme for instantaneous motion picture capture. In 1878, Muybridge successfully photographed a horse in fast motion to prove Stanford’s claim using a series of 24 cameras. This series of photographs, taken at what is now Stanford University, is called “The Horse in Motion,” and is one of the most popular images in history.

These late 19th century photographs are currently on display at Arader Galleries location in Jackson Square, San Francisco (435 Jackson St.). You can find out more about the gallery at or by calling 415-788-5115.

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