Born in France on April 18, 1804, Charles-Louis Chevalier was the son of a prominent instrument maker. Barely out of his teens, the young optician began designing lenses that are believed to be the first to be used exclusively for photography. He soon began supplying photographic equipment to the most important European innovators of the era, including Joseph Nicephore Niepce de St. Victor, to whom he sold a camera obscura. Mr. Chevalier introduced Niepce to Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre at his small Parisian shop, the Quai de l'Horloge. It quickly became a popular gathering place for photographic students and pioneers like Niepce and Daguerre who would exchange ideas about chemical combinations and discuss their latest experiments.
Mr. Chevalier's addition of an amplifier to the solar microscope in 1825 improved the instrument's quality tremendously. Also in 1825, a stranger entered Mr. Chevalier's shop and boldly announced he had succeeded in capturing a camera image onto paper. As the optician later recalled, the young man produced the sheet of paper of a camera image of a Parisian landscape. An astounded Mr. Chevalier wanted to know how this process was achieved and was handed a bottle of liquid and some instructions. According to legend, the stranger exited the shop without giving his name, never to be seen or heard from again. Mr. Chevalier attempted to reproduce the technique following the instructions on the liquid bottle, but fell short likely due to improper paper preparation. However, his brief encounter with the young man excited the optician to the unlimited possibilities of photography.
In 1839, Mr. Chevalier began selling the Giroux daguerreotype camera fitted with the achromatic lens he originally designed for microscopes, believed to be the first photographic camera offered for public consumption. He also experimented with the double objective process he first patented in 1834, but his doublets were used solely as an object glass for telescopes until they apparently were first applied to photography in 1840 by someone other than Charles-Louis Chevalier.
However, also in 1840, Mr. Chevalier introduced a portable daguerreotype folding camera known as the Photographe. The following year, he began selling lenses, equipment, and sample daguerreotypes to prominent English photographer Henry Fox Talbot. He took top prize at Paris' Societe d'Encouragement for his photographic lenses over Voigtlander's Petzval portrait lenses. Unfortunately, the Petzval lenses soon overtook Chevalier's lenses in popularity and sales, much to his considerable frustration.
One of the founders of the Societe Heliographique in 1851, Mr. Chevalier's later years were spent in the production and sale of photographe a verres combines lenses and in the publication of several technical manuals on photography. Charles-Louis Chevalier died in Paris on November 21, 1859, leaving his thriving business to his son Louis-Marie Arthur Chevalier, which he operated successfully until his death in 1872.
Photo courtesy Roman Art - © All Rights Reserved
1878 American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science, Vol. III (New York: Industrial Publishing Company), p. 38.
1900 Anthony's Photographic Bulletin, Vol. XXXI (New York: E. & H. T. Anthony & Co. Publishers), p. 385.
1996 Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology (London: Routledge), pp. 254-255.
1831 The Edinburgh Journal of Science, Vol. V (Edinburgh: Thomas Clark), p. 245.
2008 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 289-290.
1900 The Photographic Times, Vol. XXXII (New York: The Photographic Times Publishing Association), p. 68.
1894 Photography Indoors and Out: A Book for Amateurs. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company), pp. 21-75.
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