with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

D.A. Woodward – Inventor of the Solar Camera

David Acheson Woodward played an important role in the art world in the United States, but is work in photography revolutionized this new art form. In this biography reporton BrightBytes, the life and work of Woodward, Photographic Educator and Inventor, is coverd extensively.

In 1853 Woodward was elected Principle of the Drawing Department at the Institute and continued in that position until 1860 when he was elected by the board to be the leader in reorganizing the school. The result was a new School of Art and Design of which he was chosen Principal…Professor Woodward was associate with the Institute for twenty-seven years. For nineteen of those years he was Principal of the Schools of Art and Design. His tenure was a period of innovation, technological advancement, and the development of a pioneering curriculum in the teaching of photography.

In 1857, Woodward patented the first widely successful photographic enlarging camera. He continued to make improvements to his solar camera in a series of patent renewals in the 1860s and 1870s. He became internationally recognized for his invention and in 1876 he was given an award at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. In the 1878 book How to Paint Photographs….there is an ad for the Improved Solar Cameras by D.A. Woodward, Maryland Institute, Baltimore, Md.

These cameras were usually mounted on a studio roof and were designed to turn to follow the sun. They were large, heavy devices that used condensers to focus the light from the sun and a copying lens that projected a small negative onto a large sheet of sensitized photographic paper or canvas. The solar camera came in two sizes, half plate with nine inch condenser, and quarter plate with a five inch condenser. Woodward as a portrait painter was interested in making enlarged copies of photographs on canvas to paint over. Using this camera he could print life-sized portraits (18″X22″) from a half plate negative in about forty-five minutes. In 1859 Woodward went to Europe to publicize his invention. While there he demonstrated the solar camera for Antoine Claudet in London. Claudet said it was “…one of the most important improvements introduced into the art of photography.”

….With the end of Woodward’s era photography courses did not reappear at the Institute till the middle of the 20th century.

From time to time, we like to remind all photographers of their roots. Where photography has been and how far the technology has come. It is also a reminder to us that this is an industry and technology that is changing and evolving constantly.

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