Lisa Robinson's weekly History of Photography Column
Share this post with your friends:
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

History of Photography: Retouching & Enlarging Makes Waves

In today’s world, it’s hard to wrap our heads around a time when retouching and enlarging photos wasn’t not only accepted, but expected! However, as photography was in its infancy, and was still bopping around finding its real place in the the world, retouching especially, was not always met with open arms. While hand painting a print was widely accepted, retouching the negative, or retouching the print in a way that would alter a person’s appearance (minimizing characteristics on the body, blemishes, etc.) was often deemed fraudulent. Add that stigma to the fact that it was very time consuming (and thus expensive) to retouch and many photographers decided not to offer it. This is an interesting point in time to stop and note that the public’s attitudes toward negative retouching being fraudulent only goes to show how fast the photographic negative took status as being a pillar of “truth.”

A sketch of the basics of a solar enlarger.

Enlargements create the need for retouching

Now, photographers (and customers) came into a dilemma as the size of photos increased because that meant more details were easily visible. Which meant more flaws were easily visible. Which meant the public began to revise its opinion on the “farce” of retouching. More and more people began asking for idealized versions of themselves in photos. This trend marked the introduction of the concept of making an “image” vs. capturing “reality.” For the first time, photography really focused on altering a subject’s appearance into an idealized versions of one’s self. The use of better lighting, posing, and retouching injected new “standards” of fashion, style and body image into society.

Now to get larger photos, enlarging came about. Prior to this era, photos were only as large as their negative. Alexander Wolcott invented and patented an enlarging type device. It would take a daguerreotype and essentially rephotograph it onto a larger plate or piece of paper. In 1857, David Woodward patented a solar enlarger. This device would transfer an image to canvas that would then get hand painted. Solar enlargers were set up horizontally over surfaces and used mirrors to relay sunlight through copy lenses and project the image onto a canvas or paper. The process remained standard until around the late 1890’s when vertical enlargers began finding their way into darkrooms.

Standard “modern” day vertical enlarger.

Evolution of the enlarger

The first vertical enlarger was designed in 1852 by Achille Quinet. In 1858, J.F. Campbell experimented by cutting a hole in his roof to enlarge an image onto a table inside his house. Campbell worked hard on perfecting the design. It evolved until it more closely resembled the enlargers that anyone who has used a darkroom in modern times, would recognize.

Luckily for photography, larger images from enlargers helped perpetuate more demand for photos. The public loved it! As their appetite grew for more and more images, larger and larger, the concept of retouching became the everyday “thing”  it is today.

Click to read more columns about The History of Photography.

Share this post with your friends:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

You might also like:

Thanks to our partners who make Photofocus possible:

Drobo – Drobo is the smartest storage solution in the world. Drobo is storage that protects data — photos, videos and everything else — from hard drive failure. Drobo is peace of mind for the working pro or serious amateur who have a lot of external drives cluttering up the desktop. Save 10% with the coupon code PHOTOFOCUS.

Lume Cube – Proudly known as the World’s Most Versatile Light™, Lume Cube represents the future of LED Lighting. Check out the new Lume Cube STROBE, offering anti-collison lighting for drones!

Backblaze – Get peace of mind knowing your files are backed up securely in the cloud. Back up your Mac or PC just $6/month.

B&H – B&H is a world renowned supplier of all the gear photographers, videographers, and cinematographers need and want to create their very best work.

Skylum – Your photos, more beautiful in minutes. Makers of Luminar, Aurora and Photolemur, Skylum adapts to your style and skill level. Check out the new Luminar 3, now available.

Perfectly Clear Complete – Built for precision. Made for beauty. Perfectly Clear has mastered the science of intelligent image correction – creating superior quality photos in record time, so you can get back to doing what you really love…in no time. Special Photofocus deal here.

Viewbug – Learn and improve your photography with over 500 videos. Trusted by millions around the world, join over 2 million photographers who already use Viewbug.