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A History Of Photography

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The name “Photography” comes from the Greek words for light and writing. Sir John Herschel, was the first to use the term photography in 1839, when he managed to fix images using hyposulphite of soda. He described photography as “The application of the chemical rays to the purpose of pictorial representation”. Herschel also coined the terms “negative”, “positive” and “snapshot”.

But a man called de la Roche (1729 – 1774), wrote Giphantie and in this imaginary tale, it was possible to capture images from nature, on a canvas which had been coated with a sticky substance and this would produce a mirror image on the sticky canvas, that fixed after it had been dried in the dark.

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There are two distinct scientific processes that combine to make photography possible and these two processes have existed for hundreds of years, but it was not until the two they had been put together that photography came into being. The first of these two processes was the Camera Obscura, which had been in existence for at least four hundred years.

The second process was chemical. People had been aware, for hundreds of years before photography, that some colours are bleached by the sun, but they made little distinction between heat, air and light.

The Camera Obscura, which means Dark Room in Latin, was a dark box or room with a small hole on one wall, which projected an inverted image on the opposite wall. This principle was known by thinkers as early as Aristotle, around 300 BC. In the 10th century, an Arabian scholar Hassan ibn Hassan, described what could be called a camera obscura in his writings “On the form of the Eclipse”. He wrote “The image of the sun at the time of the eclipse, unless it is total, demonstrates that when its light passes through a narrow, round hole and is cast on a plane opposite to the hole it takes on the form of a moon-sickle…”. The earliest record of the uses of a camera obscura can be found in the writings and drawings of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). At about the same period Daniel Barbaro, a Venetian, recommended the camera as an aid to drawing. He wrote: “Close all shutters and doors until no light enters the camera except through the lens, and opposite hold a piece of paper, which you move forward and backward until the scene appears in the sharpest detail. There on the paper you will see the whole view as it really is, with its distances, its colours and shadows and motion, the clouds, the water twinkling, the birds flying. By holding the paper steady you can trace the whole perspective with a pen, shade it and delicately colour it from nature.” In the mid sixteenth century Giovanni Battista della Porta (1538-1615) made a huge “camera” in which he seated his guests, having arranged a group of actors to perform outside so that the visitors could watch the images on the wall. But the sight of upside down performing images was too much for the visitors and they panicked and fled, and Battista was brought to court on a charge of sorcery! It is likely that many artists will have used a camera obscura to aid them in drawing, but because of the stories of the occult, or because they felt it was “cheating” in some way not many people would admit to using one. In 1764, the lens was being developed. The name lens comes from the Latin word for lentil, because the shape of the lentils resembles that of a convex lens. In the sixteen hundreds Robert Boyle, had reported that silver chloride turned dark under exposure, but he believed that it was caused by exposure to the air, rather than to light. In the early seventeenth century Angelo Sala noticed that powdered silver nitrate was blackened by the sun, and in 1727 Johann Heinrich Schulze discovered that certain liquids change colour when exposed to light.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century Thomas Wedgwood was conducting experiments in which he had successfully captured silhouettes, but there was no way of making the image permanent. The first successful picture was produced in June/July 1826 by Joseph Nipce, using a process called Heliography, using Bitumen of Judea, which hardened on exposure to light. This picture required an exposure of eight hours.

On 4 January 1829 Nipce agreed to go into partnership with Louis Daguerre to perfect the process, but Nipce died four years later. Daguerre continued to experiment, discovering a way of developing photographic plates, which reduced the exposure time from eight hours down to half an hour. He also discovered that an image could be made permanent by immersing it in salt. Following a report on this invention by a leading scholar of the day, Paul Delaroche, the French government bought the rights to it in July 1839 and the process was made public on 19 August 1839. Daguerre named it the Daguerreotype. Because the Daguerreotype allowed people who couldn’t draw to “draw”, it became a craze overnight. But, not everyone welcomed this exciting invention. A newspaper report in the Leipzig City Advertiser said: “The wish to capture evanescent reflections is not only impossible… but the mere desire alone, the will to do so, is blasphemy. God created man in His own image, and no man- made machine may fix the image of God. Is it possible that God should have abandoned His eternal principles, and allowed a Frenchman… to give to the world an invention of the Devil?”. Artists at the time saw photography as a threat to their livelihood, and some even believed that painting would cease to exist.

The Spectator (2 February 1839) called daguerreotypes the “self operating process of Fine Art.” Carl Dauthendey, the first professional daguerreotype photographer in St. Petersburg, makes an commented that “People were afraid at first to look for any length of time at the pictures he produced. They were embarrassed by the clarity of these figures and believed that the little, tiny faces of the people in the pictures could see out at them, so amazing did the unaccustomed detail and the unaccustomed truth to nature of the first daguerreotypes appear to everyone”. One problem with early daguerreotypes was the length of exposure required, up to 15 minutes in bright sunlight. A daguerreotype depicting a chapel, states that the picture was taken between 4:40pm and 5:30pm on 19 April 1840. For portrait photographs rests were used to keep the head still, and one photographer put flour on subject’s faces, to increase the amount of reflected light and reduce exposure time!In 1853 Daguerre’s patent expired, and the number of daguerreotypists increased. But at that time, all photographs were monochrome, so many artists found work colouring photographs. Colouring kits were produced, the Newman kit, had thirty-six colours, which be applied painted onto the plate with a fine brush and fixed by then breathing on the plate.

But the Daguerreotype process, was expensive, and the pictures were one-offs. It did mean that each image would be an original piece of art that couldn’t be duplicated. The surfaces were extremely delicate and the images produced were mirror images. Also the bromine and chlorine fumes and hot mercury required were highly toxic and the images were difficult to view from certain angles. So there was a need for a way of copying pictures. The Calotype invented by William Henry Fox Talbot, provided the answer. He described it as “the process by which natural objects may be made to delineate themselves without the aid of the artist’s pencil”. Talbot made his first paper negative in August 1835. It depicts the now famous window at Lacock Abbey, his home. The negative is 1″ square and poor quality, compared with the images produced by the Daguerreotype process. By 1841, Talbot had perfected the process and the great advantage of the Calotype was that an unlimited number of positive prints could be made. Today’s photography is based on the same principle as the Calotype. Talbot’s photography was straight onto paper, and the imperfections of the paper were printed with the image when a positive was made. Several people experimented with glass instead of paper, but the problem was to make the silver solution stick to the shiny surface of the glass. In 1848 Abel Nipce de Saint-Victor, perfected a process of coating a glass plate with white of egg sensitised with potassium iodide, and washed with an acid solution of silver nitrate. This process, albumen, produced very fine detail and much higher quality. But it was very slow and only photos of architecture and landscapes could be taken, portraiture was simply not possible. In 1851 Frederick Scott Archer introduced the Wet Collodion process, which was much faster than the previous methods, reducing exposure times to two or three seconds. Which made photography much more versatile. Prices for daguerreotypes would cost about a guinea (1.05), which would be the weekly wage for many workers, but by using the collodion process, prints could be made for as little as one shilling (5p). With the collodion process the coating, exposure and development of the image had to be done whilst the plate was still wet, which required a considerable amount of equipment on location. There were various attempts to preserve exposed plates in wet collodion, to be developed later, but these preservatives lessened the sensitivity of the material.

The next major step forward came in 1871, when Dr. Richard Leach Maddox discovered a way of using Gelatin, a new discovery at the time, instead of glass for the photographic plate. This led to the development of the dry plate process, which could be developed much quicker than with any previous technique. Initially it was less sensitive, but was refined so that the idea of factory-made photographic material was now possible. The introduction of this dry-plate process meant you didn’t have to have the cumbersome wet-plates, or a darkroom tent. George Eastman is particularly remembered for introducing flexible film in 1884. But four years later he introduced the box camera, and photography could now reach a much greater number of people. Herman Vogel, developed a means whereby film could become sensitive to green light. Popular in the Victorian times was stereoscopic photography, which reproduced images in three dimensions. It is a process whose popularity waxed and waned – as it does now – reaching its heights in the mid-Victorian era.

Dr. Peter Henry Emmerson, a Brit., was one of the first artists in photography. He didn’t believe in using special effects or copying paintings, his work reflects his complex philosophy, that reality only exists when seen. Man Ray was a founder member of the New York Dada Group, founded in 1917. The New York camera club (1902) was a benchmark for new photography. Paul Strand, a pure photographer, and Alfred Steiglitz, a painter and photographer, were both members. In 1920 Steiglitz opened a gallery which showed paintings along with photographs, the first gallery to do so. He produced prints to explain and describe. Paul Strand was an influence to Ansel Adams, a member of the f64 group, who used precise large format (5″x4″) and large depths of field. Imogen Cunningham, the grandmother of photography, was also a member of the f64 group, and challenged P.H. Emmersons approach to photography and his philosophy.

Documentary photography began to take off, Walker Adams and Dorothy Lange, photographed the people made poor by the stockmarket crash. William Eggleston is another famous documentary photographer, who also practised fine art photography. With the birth of Abstract Expression, around 1950, and painters like Jackson Pollack becoming successful for painting from the subconscious. Contemporary photography began in the 1960’s, and being contemporary, is still going to this day. In the 60’s photography was accepted into the mainstream culture and began to be taught in higher education. Prominent photographers became lecturers in higher education. The curators of art galleries became taste makers because they chose the exhibits shown in the art galleries, and bring those exhibits to the public. The curators began to take photography seriously as an art form and for the first time photography was on an equal footing with paintings.

In 1963 Dwayne Michaels produced a series of surrealist photographs based on his dreams. Also fashion and applied photography took off with photographers like David Bailey. Irving Penn took photos of tribes people in a studio, isolated from their contextual surroundings, to focus all the attention on the people. Diana Arbast (suicide 71 – self portrait) as well as Penn took “off the wall” photos. Andy Warhol took art influenced photographs, playing on repetition and using photographs he found rather than taking his own.

Beschers view objectivity is truthful and real photography, a visual record of an event. Mundane and everyday photographs, an honest view objectivity, with just pictures that make no comment or statement, using the photographic way of seeing. Jenny Holtzer used photography to record writing on peoples arms. In 1992 Gillian Wearing produced “Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say And Not What Someone Else Wants You To Say” a collection of Photographs of people holding up boards with statements from the subjects.

Cite this A History Of Photography

A History Of Photography. (2019, Jan 21). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/a-history-of-photography/

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