Sunday, January 08, 2006
History of Photography / Beginning with the French and English . . .
Edited for student notes by Robert Trudeau.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle observed that light passing through a small hole in the wall of a room formed an upside-down image of an object. However, this characteristic of light was not used to construct a camera until about A.D. 1500, in Italy.
The first crude camera, called a camera obscura (dark chamber), consisted of a huge box with a tiny opening in one side that admitted light.
On the opposite side of the box, the light formed an inverted image of the scene outside. The camera obscura was sometimes large enough for a person to enter, and it was used chiefly by artists as a sketching aid. They traced the outline of the image formed inside the box and then colored the picture.
A French inventor named Joseph Nicephore Niepce (marvelous name, yes?) found a way to produce a permanent image in a camera obscura. In 1826, he coated a metal plate with a light-sensitive chemical and then exposed the plate in the camera for about eight hours. The resulting picture, showing the view from Niepce's window, was the world's first photograph.
Niepce's technique was perfected during the 1830's by the French inventor Louis Daguerre.
Daguerre exposed a sheet of silver-coated copper, developed the image with mercury vapor, and then "fixed" it with table salt. His pictures, called daguerreotypes, required a relatively short exposure of 15 to 30 seconds and produced sharp, detailed images.
In 1839, the same year Daguerre patented his process, a British inventor named William H. Fox Talbot announced his invention of light-sensitive paper. This paper produced a negative from which positive prints could be made. Sir John Herschel called the invention *photography.*
Fox Talbot's paper prints, which were called talbotypes or calotypes, did not contain images as sharp as those of daguerreotypes. But the negative-to-positive process of making photographs had two important advantages. It produced many prints from one exposure, and the pictures could be included in books, newspapers, and other printed materials.
Photography was greatly improved during the 1840's by the introduction of specialized lenses. The portrait lens admitted much more light than previous lenses had and so reduced the exposure time to a few minutes.
In 1851, a British photographer named Frederick S. Archer introduced a photographic process that greatly reduced exposure time and improved the quality of prints. In Archer's process, a glass plate was coated with a mixture of silver salts and an emulsion made of a wet, sticky substance called collodion (argh). Many photographers traveled in wagons that served as a darkroom and a developing laboratory. Others walked.
The invention of the dry-plate process overcame the inconvenience of the collodion method. By using dry plates, photographers did not have to process a picture immediately. Whew.
By the late 1870's, improvements in the gelatin emulsion (do not eat this gelatin) had reduced exposure time to 1/25 of a second or less. Photographers could now take pictures while holding the camera in their hands. Rather than their what? Feet? Rather than mounted upon a tripod? Yes.
In 1888, George Eastman, an American dry-plate manufacturer, introduced the Kodak (he coined the name for his company) box camera. The Kodak was the first camera designed specifically for mass production and amateur use. It was lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to operate.
The Kodak system also eliminated the need for photographers to process their own pictures. The Kodak used a roll of gelatin-coated film that could record 100 photographs (they were circular in shape; cute!). After a roll had been used, a person sent the camera - with the film inside - to Eastman's processing plant in Rochester, NY. The plant developed the film, made prints, and then returned the photos and camera - loaded with a new roll of film.
The Kodak slogan declared: "You Press the Button, We Do the Rest."
Landscapes and architecture were also popular subjects for early art photographers. During the 1850's and 1860's, photographs were taken of historical sites in Europe and the Middle East, the scenery of the American West, and many other major landmarks. In 1861, for example, two French photographers named Auguste and Louis Bisson withstood intense cold and avalanches to take pictures from the top of Mont Blanc (not a giant pen) in France.
Some of the most dramatic photographs of the mid-1800's were battlefield scenes. The photos of the American Civil War (1861-1865) made by Mathew Brady and his assistants remain a landmark in photography.
During the late 1800's, some photographers used their pictures to dramatize issues, rather than simply record events or create artistic effects. One such photographer was William H. Jackson, an American, who specialized in photographing the Far West. Jackson's photographs of the Yellowstone area helped persuade Congress to establish the world's first national park there (Ansel Adams photos had a similar effect in the 1930's).
Jacob A. Riis took pictures that exposed social evils. In 1888, Riis's photographs of the slums of New York City shocked the public and helped bring about the abolition of one of the city's worst districts. Lewis Hine, who was a sociologist, documented the miserable working conditions of the poor. His pictures of children working in coal mines and dimly lighted factories helped bring about the passage of child-labor laws.
During the 1920's and early 1930's, photography underwent dramatic changes as the result of two major developments.
First, photographic equipment was revolutionized by the miniature 35-millimeter camera and artificial lighting. The Leica camera (see the illustration above), introduced in 1924 in Germany, was small enough to fit in a pocket, but it produced clear, detailed photographs. Many photographers used the Leica to take candid pictures. Their subjects did not know they were being photographed.
The electric flashbulb, introduced in 1929, and electronic flash, invented in 1931, greatly expanded the range of photographic subjects.
A technique called documentary photography developed in the 1930's. During the Great Depression, the Department of Agriculture hired photographers to survey conditions in rural areas of the United States. The outstanding photographers involved in this project included Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. Their pictures portray the courage and suffering of poverty-stricken farm families. At the same time, the appearance of illustrated news magazines in Europe and the United States created a demand for news photographs. Such photojournalists as Margaret Bourke-White and Robert Capa, both of the United States, vividly recorded some of the most important people and dramatic events of the period.
Thomas A. Edison, in New Jersey, and the Lumiere Brothers, in Paris, developed motion picture cameras.
Another American photographer, Ansel Adams, specialized in landscapes, especially the mountains and deserts of the West.
Notable modernists ...
* James Van Der Zee photographed the well-to-do class of Harlem, NYC, duirng the 1920's.
* Edwin Land, scientist and inventor of the Polaroid Instant camera.
* Ron Galella is called the "poppa of the papparrazi" because of his 1960's work in capturing celebs unaware, such as Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
* New Orleanian John Clarence Laughlin took documentary pictures of Mississippi River plantation mansions. His book "Ghosts Along the Mississippi" is a classic.
* Diane Arbus, NYC, specialized in pictures of unusual people of the group we term *outsiders.*
* Gordon Parks began with fashion photography in NYC and moved to photojournalism and into movie making (The Learning Tree, '63, and Shaft, '71, among them).
* Andy Warhol, NYC artist. He took photo images of mundane items such as the Campbell's Soup label and portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Mao Zedong and transformed them into colorful paintings. His style was called Pop Art.
* Annie Leibovitz won her fame shooting celebrities for Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. Demi Moore, 9 months pregnant, posed nude in a Leibovitz magazine cover photo that was remarkably decent and artful.