History of Photography as Part of Salemfest

September 27, 2013

by S. Aaron Shamshoyan

While Salemfest was underway Saturday, historical society member Dr. Daniel Zavisza was informing guests on the history of photography leading up to the Civil War at the Old Town Hall.

Zavisza began the tour through photographic time with a Daguerreotype photograph, the first style of picture ever taken.

The photo was taken by a box with a lens and light shines onto metal coated with silver which reacts to light.  The image is then polished and a picture is present on the metal.  “The very first picture is of rooftops in Paris,” Zavisza said.  It was taken in 1838.

Only a single copy of the picture was made.  The photograph was a positive so no replication was possible.

In 1851, a new type of photograph was introduced.  Ambrotype was created on glass by the same process as the Daguerreotype.  The picture is hardly present unless the glass is places on top of a dark background where it then stands out.  There was no color to the photographs, but the pictures could be hand painted to give the effect of a color photo.  Black glass could be used to allow for the image to be easily seen.

Zavisza introduced tin types as the next type of photograph available.  Becoming popular in the 1860s through 80s, tin types got their name because the tin for the photo was often cut from a tin can.

People attending fairs could have their picture taken as a tin type which is where they were most often seen.

During the Civil War, a photo process was invented where pictures could be developed and reproduced on paper.  People could have their pictures taken and printed on paper the size of a business card.  Zavisza said about 20 cards would be purchased at a time and handed out.

There were many of these pictures on display along with many historic cameras of different styles and brands.  A photography enthusiast, Zavisza said he thought learning history of photography would be interesting.

Zavisza became interested in history when he moved to Salem and became a member of the Historical Society.  “I really enjoy coming here and learning about the history of Salem,” he said.

The museum located by Veterans Memorial Common is open to the public on Monday’s from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.