The chemistry of early photographs: New American Chemical Society video

December 10, 2012

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2012 -- The chemistry of early photography comes under the lens in a new episode of Bytesize Science, the American Chemical Society (ACS) award-winning video series. Produced by the ACS Office of Public Affairs, it is available at

The video, which features Art Kaplan, of the Getty Conservation Institute, explains that the history of photography is rich with chemical innovations and insights. Early photographers came up with hundreds of different processes to develop images in unique and often beautiful ways. Kaplan describes the development processes and distinguishing features of several types of photographs, including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes.

Kaplan studies different styles of photographs, and the materials and the chemistry that gave life to still life in the early days of photography. To do so, he has loaded his office drawers with photographic samples and scientific instruments. Early photographs can be difficult to conserve, since each type of photograph requires a different preservation technique, he notes. And while two photos could look very similar, they may differ chemically in dramatic ways.
For more entertaining, informative science videos and podcasts from the ACS Office of Public Affairs, view Prized Science, Spellbound, Science Elements and Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 164,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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