Lens, Shutters, and Film: Making Cameras Easier and Accessible

The cameras in this collection are representative of cameras produced in the early twentieth century. To use these cameras, a photographer activated the shutter—allowing light to enter the lens, pass through the bellows, and create an image on either photosensitized glass plates or film paper.

Early photographers created exposures on glass plates covered in light sensitive chemicals. Photographers took and developed the photograph while the plate was still wet. George Eastman revolutionized photography by mass producing dry plates and later photosensitized film—so amateurs who did not have access to chemicals or darkrooms could take more photographs.

Developments in science that increased the light senestivity of the photographic emulsion used on plates and film led to the invention of mechanical shutters. New focal plane shutters—made with slits in cloth or medal bands that turned inward toward the plate or film—allowed photographers to take candid shots. Cameras became faster, easier, portable, and more accurate, but also more accessible for the masses. Photography belonged to everyone—not only the professional.  

The Evolution of 20th Century Camera Technology from the William B. Cavanaugh Collection