DRAPER, John William

b. 5 May 1811; d. 4 January 1882

Dr. William Draper, an Englishman by birth, was a professor of chemistry at New York University. In 1837, two years in fact before the announcement of the daguerreotype, he had discovered photography. His early achievements include a photograph of the moon, and of objects through a microscope.

He began to experiment with the process, making a camera out of a cigar box. One of his first successful portraits was that of his sister Catherine. Constrained by the considerable exposure times necessary, he first tried to overcome this by coating Catherine's face with flour, but this was not satisfactory. He then discovered that by increasing the aperture of the lens and reducing its focal length he could drastically reduce exposure time. In December 1840 he was using a lens with an f1.4 aperture.

Draper set up a partnership with Samuel Morse, a colleague at New York University.

"Dorothy Draper", taken June 1840, is perhaps his first successful portrait. Draper and Morse have also been credited with the discovery that since the exposures were long, there would be no harm in blinking, so the eyes could be kept open - something that other photographers of their time had not grasped.

© Robert Leggat, 1999.