History of Photography

History of Photography

The Hockney–Falco thesis as advanced by artist David Hockney suggests that some artists used the Camera Obscura and Camera Lucida to trace scenes as early as the 16th century. However, this theory is heavily disputed by today’s contemporary realist artists who are able to create high levels of realism without optical aids.
Here’s a brief overview of how photography began and evolved.

Period Milestone
5th and 4th centuries B.C. Description of the basic principles of optics and camera
Long before cameras or photographs were made, Chinese philosopher Mozi and Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Euclid described the pin-hole camera. Aristotle made the first casual reference to the optic laws around 330 BC. He posed the question, ‘How does the sun make a circular image when it shines through a square hole?’ The optic laws were the key to the discovery of the pinhole camera later.
1000 A.D. Development of a pinhole camera
An Arab scholar named Alhazen (Ibn Al-Haytham) described the theory and scientific understanding of Camera Obscura. He also developed the Camera Obscura to illustrate how the human eye processes an image. Camera Obscura (meaning ‘darkened room’ in Latin) was originally a room completely sealed from light, except for a very small hole in one wall. An image of the outside world would be projected, upside down and reversed right-to-left, on the wall opposite the hole.
17th century Frequent use of Camera Obscuras
Originally, Camera Obscuras consisted of a room in a fixed building. However, by the 16th and 17th centuries, Camera Obscuras were made portable in various forms such as tents, sedan chairs, boxes and pocket models. Artists widely used portable Camera Obscuras for sketching.
1820’s The first photographic image with a Camera Obscura
In 1827, Joseph Nicephore Niepce (a French inventor) made the first photographic image with a Camera Obscura. Prior to Niepce, people used the Camera Obscura only for viewing and drawing purposes, not for making photographs. Niepce experimented with the Camera Obscura so that he could capture an image permanently through it. He placed an engraving onto a metal plate coated in bitumen and then exposed it to light. The area covered by the engraving blocked light and the remaining areas allowed light to react with the chemicals on the plate. When Niepce placed the metal plate in a solvent, gradually an image, until then invisible, appeared. Niepce’s experiments were successful in creating the first photographs with a Camera Obscura. However, Niepce’s photographs required eight hours of light exposure to develop and even then, after appearing, it would soon fade away. Once Johann Heinrich Schultz discovered in 1724 that a silver and chalk mixture darkens when exposed to light, Niépce began experimenting with silver compounds to better the photograph quality. The photograph given here is said to be the earliest surviving photograph (circa 1826) of a scene from nature, “View from the Window at Le Gras,” Saint-Loup-de-Varennes (France).
1837 Daguerreotype Process
Louis Daguerre worked in partnership with Niepce from 1829 to 1833 and together they were responsible for much of the preliminary work which led to a defining of a photographic process. In 1835, Louis Daguerre accidently discovered how to develop latent images. He had left a plate of some chemicals exposed in his cupboard. Some days later, he found that a latent image had developed. He eventually concluded that this was due to the presence of mercury vapor from a broken thermometer. This made it possible to reduce the exposure time from around eight hours to thirty minutes. By 1837, he was able to produce as well as fix images. He named this new process after himself – the daguerreotype. It was a more convenient and an effective method of photography. Daguerre is best remembered for this photographic process.
1840’s Calotype Process
William Henry Talbot invented a method to fix images with table salt and then produce them using silver compounds. These were what we call ‘negatives’ today. He called them Sciagraphs, which means ‘representing objects through their shadows.’ He also discovered an entirely new process of developing Calotypes, a developed negative of exquisite sensitivity. Calotype is a phenomenon of the latent image. Calotype was a major breakthrough because it considerably lowered exposure times from around one hour to 1-3 minutes. The great advantage of Talbot’s method was that the process involved both a negative and a positive. Calotypes also allowed multiple prints. Starting around 1852, he worked for the last 25 years of his life, applying photography techniques to making plates for the printing press. Talbot constructed a smaller Camera Obscura box, the image being thrown by a good object-glass fixed at one end onto a sensitive paper at the other end. The apparatus used to be taken out in a summer afternoon, and placed about one hundred yards from a building favorably illuminated by the sun. Afterwards on opening the box, a very distinct representation of the building was depicted upon the paper, with the exception of those parts of it which lay in the shade. With a smaller Camera Obscura the effect was produced in a smaller duration of time. Talbot’s contributions have made an enormous influence on our lives.
1860’s First color image
Dr. James Clerk Maxwell was a Scottish physicist who contributed towards many fields including photography. He analyzed the phenomenon of color perception and invented the trichromatic process. He used red, green and blue filters to produce the first color photography of a Scottish tartan ribbon. This process was the forerunner of today’s modern color photography.
1870’s First motion pictures
Eadweard James Muybridge, also known as the ‘Father of the motion picture,’ was an English photographer who experimented with photographing rapid action. In his early twenties he went to live in America. He gained a reputation for his landscape photographs of the American West. Muybridge’s main claim to fame was his exhaustive study of movement. He was hired by Leland Stanford, a railroad baron and former Governor of California to determine and prove that when a horse gallops, all four of its feet are off the ground at least once. Eadweard used photography to devise a scientific method by which he proved Leland right. Muybridge took some time to device a perfect way of photographing this. A few years after working on it, Muybridge was able to photograph a horse galloping, using twenty four cameras, each triggered off by the breaking of a trip-wire on the course. In capturing this motion, Muybridge not only proved that Leland was right, but he also showed that a horse’s feet are not, as it was believed to be, outstretched, like a rocking- horse, but bunched together under the belly. Eadweard also invented Zoopraxiscope, which is considered an important early stage of the movie projector and paved the way for cine photography. (A set of photographs by Muybridge showing the horse in a full gallop)
1880’s First ‘Kodak’ camera
Till around the 1880’s, photography was popular, but was still considered too complicated and costly for ordinary users. George Eastman played a leading role in transforming photography to an inexpensive, everyday affair for the masses. Eastman introduced the flexible film in 1884. In around 1888, he introduced the box camera which used the roll film, and was easy enough for the masses. He came up with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest.” The box camera had simple lens which focused on an object or scene which was at least 8 feet or beyond. The roll of film which was used in this camera could take hundred images, all circular in shape. Once a person had taken the pictures, the entire camera would be posted to the factory for processing of the film and reloading of new film. The photographs were of about 65mm diameter. Photography thus became very easy and so very popular. George Eastman was also responsible for inventing the famous dry, transparent, and flexible, photographic film (or rolled photography film) and the Kodak cameras that could use the new film. He was one of the first American industrialists to employ a full-time research scientist. Along with an associate, Eastman perfected the first commercial transparent roll film which made possible Thomas Edison’s motion picture camera in 1891. In 1888, Eastman perfected the Kodak camera, the first camera designed specifically for roll film. In 1892, he established the Eastman Kodak Company, at Rochester, New York. This was one of the first firms to produce standardized photography equipment on a large scale. This company also manufactured the flexible transparent film, devised by Eastman in 1889, which helped the subsequent development of the motion picture industry immensely.
1990’s and onward First digital still camera
In 1991, Kodak released the first professional digital camera system (DCS). It was a Nikon F-3 camera equipped by Kodak with a 1.3 megapixel sensor. It was targeted at photo journalists. It used cassette tapes to store pictures. Each photo took 23 seconds to snap, producing a 100-line black and white image that could only be displayed on a television set.

Let’s find out about some other personalities who have also contributed immensely to the art of photography in important ways.

Herschel, Sir John Frederick William (1792-1871)
Sir John William Herschel, a well-known astronomer became interested in capturing and retaining images. He managed to fix pictures using hyposulphite of soda. He is credited with having made the first glass negative. It is to Herschel that we owe the word ‘photography’. He referred this term in a paper entitled ‘Note on the Art of Photography, or the Application of the chemical rays of light to the purpose of Pictorial Representation’ presented to the Royal Society in 1839.Herschel is also credited with coining the terms ‘negative,’ ‘positive,’ and ‘snapshot.’

Stieglitz, Alfred (1864-1946)
Alfred Stieglitz, an American photographer, promoted photography as an art at the same level as other arts, and has been dubbed the ‘patron saint of straight photography.’He is known for the New York art galleries that he ran in the early part of the 20th century. In 1902, he became one of the founders of the Photo-Secession, a group of talented avant-garde artists. The Photo-Secession gallery demolished all boundaries between traditional art (paintings, sculptures and drawings) and photography. In 1905, he also founded and directed the Photo-Secession gallery in 291 Fifth Avenue, New York. Also known as ‘291’, this gallery exhibited works of contemporary photographers and other artists. By the end of his career, Stieglitz owned more than 3,000 photographs of his own, 850 works of art mostly by artists he represented, 580 prints by other photographers and an enormous collection of books and writings.

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