THE INVENTION OF PHOTOGRAPHY

OVERVIEW

Invention

The invention of the early camera,-the Camera obscura whose image recording process was based on the optical structure of the eye heralded a new way of recording visual image. Thus the early camera mimicked the eye in registering image. In its primitive stages it was intended to be an effort to “extend” the human eye and was perceived as a more superior “eye” of sorts. The idea must have been to capture more information or data that the human eye could not through the “more sophisticated” eye – the Camera obscura. In the initial stages, a “film less” version was used by artists for sketches. By the first half of the 19th century, photography was rapidly gaining ground as a communication tool whose power and significance could be likened to the impact of the advent of the printing press. Both painters and photographers were collaborating to discover a better way of representing images. The industrial revolution of this era facilitated general acceptance.

Development

In the mid 19th century, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, a French painter built on his previous collaborative and experimental work with Niepce and in 1839 his work morphed into making direct positive image on a silver plate called the Daguerreotype process. This resulted in the possibility of multiplicity of photographs accessibility and availability was born. The French government played a key role in publicising photography by buying the patent from Daguerre. Prior to this development, only the middle class had access to photography and it was largely through portraiture and because the traditional artists could not meet with the demands. Photography was in a vantage position to fill in the gaps. The invention of Calotype process by William Henry Fox Talbot in the early 19th century (1840) enabled the negative-positive process of photography and made it possible to produce multiple copies of images. This was a landmark invention in photography; availability was taken out of the privileged reach of the middle class and placed in the public domain. The Calotype process solved the need for reproducibility and made mass production of photographs a possibility. During this era, the first illustrated book with photograph emerged printed by Talbot one of the inventors of the photographic printing process. This book- The Pencil of Nature (1844–46) brought a new dimension to how literacy will be viewed. Photography had started influencing print.

By the mid 19th century (1851) the Colloidion process solved a problem plaguing the photographic processes by merging the advantages of the previous processes. This resulted in a universal acceptance aided by the industrial revolution of the era. The Colloidion process merged advantages of its predecessors building on that to solve the need for durability. The late 19th century saw another shift in photography with the launch of the Kodak camera in 1884. General use of the camera was being marketed and ease-of –use created more appeal as photographers no longer had to carry plates and chemicals, cameras were easier to move around. In the early 20th century (1901) the first mass-produced camera debuted. From the early 19th century photography has been undergoing a remediation from one form to another. Art and technology have had been progressively influential in the development of photography from inception leading to the portable camera which solved the problem of mobility and ease of use and further influenced the influx of ore enthusiasts into the burgeoning profession.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Western Society’s ideological shift from the influence of the Renaissance period to a more Scientific approach in the 1830s marked a society that was ready for a change in representation of their reality. The first permanent image created by the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce of his surroundings in 1826 (National Geographic Society, 2010) set forth a pursuit of chemical and optical processes to capture reality beyond what the hand could. The scientific approach to the investigation of plants, animals, landscape and objects influenced by the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution signaled a change in the worldview of society at the time. From a significant change from spiritual perspectives to one focused on “reason and evidence based on proof”, it was an era of the middle class as well to encourage the flourishing of the invention of photography (Hackett, 1992). With the development of the photograph through Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre’s daguerrotype it began a new process of creating permanent images.

Heliography by Niepce

Impact on Society and People

As Kestenbaum observes, “Millions of daguerreotypes, mostly portraits, were made before the process became obsolete in the early 1850s and was replaced by other forms of the photograph” but this signals how photography impacted people and their sense of actual mortality. With the ability of photography to document changes in time and the reality of the physical experience of being human, people were able to be recorded. Representations of figures of authority were no different than the average citizen. The invention of photograph changed the way people perceived their reality. From a time when paintings had an element of the imagination to photographs which captured objects in an objective manner through light and chemicals, it was a change of how people knew themselves and those around them. Pose, gesture, costume and lighting could alter this sense of reality but nonetheless it captured things as they were physically existent. The human body and the physical experience of being human became magnified through the lens of a camera.

From this moment in history, photography became ways to capture natural phenomenon, wars, action photos, exploration and colonialism to the mundane everyday life. Seeing and documenting life and death through a lens allowed for the world to record reality beyond the printed word or the words of others.

Impact on Society and People

As Kestenbaum observes, “Millions of daguerreotypes, mostly portraits, were made before the process became obsolete in the early 1850s and was replaced by other forms of the photograph” but this signals how photography impacted people and their sense of actual mortality. With the ability of photography to document changes in time and the reality of the physical experience of being human, people were able to be recorded. Representations of figures of authority were no different than the average citizen. The invention of photograph changed the way people perceived their reality. From a time when paintings had an element of the imagination to photographs which captured objects in an objective manner through light and chemicals, it was a change of how people knew themselves and those around them. Pose, gesture, costume and lighting could alter this sense of reality but nonetheless it captured things as they were physically existent. The human body and the physical experience of being human became magnified through the lens of a camera.

From this moment in history, photography became ways to capture natural phenomenon, wars, action photos, exploration and colonialism to the mundane everyday life. Seeing and documenting life and death through a lens allowed for the world to record reality beyond the printed word or the words of others.

Accessibility, Availability and Affordability

As Rosenblum discusses the development in chemical and dye industries at the end of the 19th century, it created the availability of more sensitive materials to heighten and popularize the photography process. With the industrial focus of countries to standardize products and processes, it led to more efficient ways of capturing the moment. Simultaneously, the advance and interest in “flying machines” also influenced photography to be used to depict the world from different perspectives. Knowledge of the universe was no longer restricted to what the common person could see but it was also beginning to be able to document phenomenons beyond the human eye. Images of the world from an aerial perspective to images of the moon, photography became a way for people to record the physical universe from an alternative perspective.

Boston from the Air

Acceptance and Integration

With the advance of photographic technology by George Eastman in 1892 and the creation of the Eastman Kodak Company, it changed the way people had access to the camera. With user-friendly cameras in convenient forms and the development of film, it simplified the process of photography to “the press of a button” (George Eastman House, 2010). The development of handheld cameras brought the technology by 1888 to the price of 25 dollars. This allowed people to capture images and process them by sending them back to Kodak. The further development of photographic technology brought the cost down in 1900 to 1 dollar with affordable film. This allowed for people from all ages to be a photographer.

George Eastman

Almost 100 years later since the creation of Eastman Kodak’s company in 1991, Kodak again advances the notion of photography by producing the first digital camera available on the commercial market (National Geographic, 2010). The idea of photography underwent a massive change in society and people were able to go beyond the financial and physical limitations of exposures in a roll of film. The advance into using computer technology combined with photography allowed accessibility and portability into a matter of seconds. Photographers no longer have to send their film into professional studios and the average person could become Eastman Kodak in the comforts of their own home and their own computer. Photographing the mundane became even more common once the cost of film was literally and figuratively “out of the picture”. Recording, documenting and seeing the world through a screen became as routine and simple as breathing.

IMPLICATIONS

The colloidion process opened a new doorway to the spread of still photography. At this stage we can assume that society began to see photography as something that had come to stay. Distribution spread further and accessibility and availability became easier and thus more people could afford and had access to the affordances of photography. There was a clamour for more as people consumed the visual stories told by the images through the eyes of the photographer.

More people had experienced and could use photography effectively and this brought about a recording of events such as wars and cultures of other parts of the world. Photography was beginning to break geographical frontiers and bringing a new twist to the way exploits were recorded. These exploits were exposed with graphic evidence that had never before been seen, with precision and great detail. The photographer at this point could be seen as a story teller of sorts who only existed in the location of the story but not in the location of re-telling the story. The images, retold the stories of peoples, events, and places. Much like when the printed book was experienced by the priest in the Notre-Dame cathedral, photography changed the way people saw the world. Imagery had moved from the stone walls of the cathedral to paper, becoming more portable.

The evolution of visual literacy:

By the end of the 19th century, photography had become a new language of learning. As more and more people explored the new frontiers of the world, their photographic records were a still documentary of wars, social realities, different locations, cultures and people. These documentation of the experiences in other parts of the world- projected photography to emerge as a teacher of geography and cultures of different locations and people. People all over the world were beginning to learn about each other in a picturesque form. Photography become a powerful recording tool of the era which enabled the learning of the events of an era

A revolution of the art:

Photography brought about an unprecedented revolutionalization of the conventional art. It removed art form being just “in the imagination” of the artist and brought reality into the art and changed the way people perceived art particularly in portraiture, landscapes and nature. It was no wonder that the early adopters of the technology were people who had artistic skills. Photography allowed them to make bold realistic statements with this new form of art, thus photography became a renaissance form for the artists of the mid 19th century probably influencing the Realism movement of that era.

Remediation:

Photography existed as both an art form and a technology which underwent various modifications creating a clamour for more as more and more people consumed the product as a form of artwork, documentation and visual record keeping. It became a form of techne which involved both artistic and technical skills and aroused the interests of governments, royals and ordinary people alike. Seeing the possibilities of photography ignited even greater desire for more, improvement and documentation-hence the remediation was a long but continuous process spanning over centuries.

CONCLUSION

The invention of photography has a certain place in history and has changed the way people perceive, document and understand their realities. Before the onset of photography, the world could only be recorded in painted, drawings, words and the voices of others. Once photography literacy became a part of society, the way the world could be realistically represented in an image, in a frame, on a piece of paper gave an alternative way to understand the world. Photographic literacy and communication changed the way people communicated represented and understood their physical universe. Authority, authenticity and history have been deeply impacted by the development of photography. The way people can express themselves have been changed by the scientific advances of the times and this has resulted in an explosion of visual representations. Photography has placed a significant role in influencing education, science, politics, culture, tradition, history, communication, literacy, memory, authority and all other aspects of society. It has made it’s way into each aspect of life, living and even death. Furthermore, the power of the still image and the power of the frame has been further contested, manipulated, developed and changed through the advance of computer technology.

REFERENCES

Daguerre (1787–1851) and the Invention of Photography: Accessed online October 30, 2010 from: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dagu/hd_dagu.htm

George Eastman House: The International Museum of Photography and Film. (2010). The George Eastman Legacy. Retrieved October 31, 2010, from http://www.eastmanhouse.org/collections/eastman/biography.php

Hackett, L. (1992). The Age of Enlightenment: The European Dream of Progress and Enlightenment. Available from: http://history-orld.org/age_of_enlightenment.htm

Infoplease encyclopedia-still photography. Accessed October 30, 2010 online at: still photography: The Invention of Photography — Infoplease.com http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/ent/A0860364.html#ixzz13o2Bc8Tb

Kestenbaum, J. The Photograph: A New “Frontier” in Cultural History. Journal of American Culture [Internet]. 1981; 4:43-46. Available from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1542-734X.1981.0401_43.x/abstract

Miller Linda (submitted 2010-03-09). Impact of photography on artists in late nineteenth century. Accessed October 30, 2010 online at: http://www.goarticles.com/cgi-bin/showa.cgi?C=2660604

National Geographic Society. (2010). History of Photography. Retrieved October 31, 2010 from http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photographers/photography-timeline.html

Rosenblum, Naomi. (2009, November 25). The World History of Photography. Retrieved October 31, 2010, from http://www.all-art.org/history658_photography1.html

Şahin Tekinalp, Pelin(2010).Links between Painting and Photography in Nineteenth-Century Turkey. History of Photography, 34: 3, 291 — 299. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03087291003630154

The American Museum of photography: A primer on processes. Accessed online at http://www.photographymuseum.com/primer.html

“The history of photography” Wikipedia. October 2010. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 29 October, 2010. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_photogra

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