1839 – 1918: Observations and Inventions

Camera obscura (i.e. “dark chamber”), an optical principle consisting in the projection of an upside down image along the horizontal and vertical axis into the space opposite the wall with a hole or lens, was observed already in ancient times. Since the Renaissance, it was used as an aid in perspective painting in the form of a box or darkened room. Natural, unintentionally created forms of camera obscura or interiors which enabled this optical phenomenon have also been described (e.g. the projections in the attic of the manor house of the Koháry’s in Svätý Anton). J. K. Horváth, a Jesuit professor of physics at the university of Trnava, explains this principle in his textbooks from the second half of the 18th century, distinguishing between camera obscura and camera optica (dark chamber with an oblique mirror – an optical aid).
Daguerreotype, the process of making images on metal plates named after its inventor Louis Daguerre, has also been developed thanks to the contributions of Joseph Maximilián Petzval, a professor of mathematics and physics at the University of Vienna. At the request of another Vienna professor, Andreas von Ettingshausen, Petzval, born in Spišská Belá, began to dedicate himself to the construction of a lens that would reduce the exposure time (previous approximately 20 – 30 minutes but only in direct sunlight). A so-called Petzval lens with 16 times higher lens speed was constructed in 1840 and used in portrait creation. A prototype of this lens was made by a Vienna mechanic and optician, Peter Wilhelm Friedrich Voigtländer. Another lens suitable for landscape and architecture photography or reproductions became known as orthoscope, constructed by Petzval in 1857. The Petzval lens was used up until 1889 when Carl Zeiss invented the anastigmat.


The first photographers – not only from Slovakia – were originally painters or scientists, and photography represented one of their scientific and technical, or personal interests. The profession of photographer as a wandering creator of portrait and landscape photographs or a photographer with his own studio gradually evolved with technological expansion.
Štefan Anián Jedlík, a Benedictine monk, physicist, inventor and professor at the university of Pest, is considered the first Hungarian amateur photographer. According to records, it can be concluded that he devoted himself to photography between 1840 and 1847. A distinguished Slovak painter, Jozef Božetech Klemens, dedicated himself to photography during his studies of painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. His portrait photographs represent the first preserved photographs of a Slovak author. It is probable that his oil painting of Ľudovít Štúr, which became the legendary portrait of the spirit of the national movement, was based on a photograph.


Calotypy (talbotypy), a photographic process developed by William Henry Fox Talbot in the same year as daguerreotypy, introduced the paper-based negative-positive principle. Although the optical resolution of calotypes was not as high as that of daguerreotypes, photography continued to develop in this direction. The invention of the collodion (wet) process in 1851 led to a massive spread of photography. In comparison with daguerreotypy with a single piece of photograph (which costed quite a lot due to the use of expensive metals), an improved positive-negative process allowed to create several pictures on glass plates from one negative. One of the most common photographic products at that time were cartes de visite – cut and adjusted portraits with a final size of approx. 6 x 9 cm (= 2.1 x 3.5 in; it was possible to capture 4 – 8 images on one negative). Thus the cost price of a portrait fell and became affordable to the general public and at the same time the reduced costs enabled photography to develop as a business.
With a long experience in photography, Eduard Kozič set up his studio in Bratislava in the late 1850s. Having mastered daguerreotypy and calotypy, he used collodion process to make photographs for his clients, offering them a transfer of photographic image to glass, porcelain and other materials as well. Pohľady z Bratislavy (Views of Bratislava) was a collection of cartes de visite depicting various spots of the city and its suburban areas. After his death, the studio was taken over by his family who operated the studio until the 1920s. It ranked among the most important studios of Bratislava and also when it comes to the present Slovak territory. Imrich Emanuel Roth was originally an academic painter active in Košice. His portraits of high artistic quality and landscape (urban) photography represent an important depiction of the image of Košice at the time. In the early 1860s, photography spread also to smaller cities in both the Kingdom of Hungary and today’s Slovakia. Probably at that time Karol Divald opened his portrait studio in Prešov which closed after the death of the last member of the Divald family in 1968. New studios were progressively set up, e.g. in Bardejovské Kúpele, Bardejov, Vysoké Tatry, etc. Karol Divald focused his production, however, on landscape photography: the High Tatras, Pieniny, the Upper Hron River region were published as postcards or postcard albums with printed texts and decorative frames. His work contributed to the popularization of the Tatra Mountains in the Kingdom of Hungary. Roth, Kozič and Divald attended several international photographic exhibitions where they were recognized and received various awards. Ludwig Angerer, born in Malacky and originally a pharmacy graduate, participated in the Crimean War as a war pharmacist. With Austrian troops, he got to Bucharest. Besides his military service, he took lots of pictures of civilians, Bucharest and its surroundings, Moldova and Wallachia as an amateur photographer. Angerer also took photographs of the Turkish and Russian garrisons. This military conflict was officially covered by a British photographer, Roger Fenton, whose photographs are considered the first war coverage. After his engagement in the war, Angerer left the armed forces in order to devote himself to photography. His studio in Vienna obtained the title of the imperial and royal court provider and in 1860, Angerer became the only photographer allowed to take a photograph of the whole imperial family, including Empress Elizabeth and her children.
Photography was also supported by non-professional authors and upper classes (e.g. archduchess Isabella of Austria or a diplomat, astronomer and politician, Milan Rastislav Štefánik, in the first decade of the 20th century). Clubs began to form and amateur photography exhibitions were organized.


Until the invention of photography, painting was considered as a medium rendering the most faithful illusion of reality, but also as an art existing only thanks to a genius – the painter. Photography as a mechanical picture of reality surpassed painting in this basic criterion, but at the same time it had to struggle to claim its place as an art form. At the beginning of its existence, authors were trying to achieve this position through the appropriation of the means of expression used by painters (softness of light and drawing, composition of layers, symmetry and balance, “picturesqueness” of motifs, hand retouching verging on repainting, complicated combination printing, adoption of the respective painting styles, etc.). Authors, amateurs and professionals, together with the forming community of theorists later began to use the technical language means peculiar only to this medium and in that way they were discovering its exceptionality (optical sharpness/fuzziness, grain, tonality, cropping). The first described approach is characteristic of pictorialism. Part of the photographic production of Roth, Kozič and Divald is based on this tradition. The second described approach led to a direct contact with reality and can be observed in the later works of not only the above mentioned authors. It fully developed only after World War I in the form of modernism.
The end of the 19th century was characterized by the Romantic search for the roots in the past and forming of the national identity. The ethnographic function of photography was explored by Pavol Socháň who, in the specific atmosphere after 1848 – 1849, took photographs of Slovak folk costumes and people wearing them and photographed portraits of those who were active in the national revival.
Before the invention of photography, painters used the camera obscura as an optical aid and the photograph as a sketchbook, an archive of motifs. The photographs by László Mednyánszky date from this period. In the following period, it is interesting to observe the photographic “memoirs” of M. A. Bazovský and the influence of photography on his works.


Industrialization at the end of the 19th century affected photography as well. It was essential to set certain standards for the mass produced products. One of the first steps of this standardization was the start of the production of the roll film camera – Kodak No. 1.
In 1893, William Dickson introduced the perforation of the film strip which enabled a standardized and simple mechanical movement of the film in not only the camera, but also the projector. This technological advance was a crucial step towards the invention of the film. Photography and film began to interact with each other in terms of technological innovations or visual aspect. Through a rapid projection of static pictures, the celluloid film strip created the illusion of motion. The reduction of the exposure time, due to increasingly sensitive materials and the evolution of optics to such a degree that made it possible to capture or stop the motion, allowed the emergence of a new form of photography without any parallel in painting – a reportage of ordinary people and the city.
In their photographic, editorial and theoretical activities, American photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen stressed a new form of photography, building on its inherent visual and technical means. A so-called straight photography adopted an approach similar to that of European modernism, though with different basis described in the following passage.