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LESSON 1 - The History of Photography (Part A)
Article by Stephen J. Kristof
© 2010, all rights reserved
When one begins to study any of the traditional "arts" disciplines such as visual art, music, drama/acting or filmmaking, the starting point is usually the history of the particular craft. Understanding the roots and pioneers of photography gives us better insight into various aspects of the overall culture and progress of image making.
So, where did it all begin? Would you believe that cameras were invented many hundreds of years before photographic film or recoding media was brought onto the scene? Why, then would someone build a camera if there was no such thing as photographic film and, similarly, no way of using it to produce a photographic image? Read on and find out.
The world’s first camera was not invented with photography in mind! In latin, the two words camera and obscura words mean "room" and "dark". The camera obscura was an idea that Chinese philosopher Mo-Ti documented during the 5th century BC. Aristotle wrote about it over 300 years BC and it eventually came to be used with artistic purpose as early as the 1200’s.
Some history books credit the artist Leonardo DaVinci with its invention in the 1500’s. Whoever actually made the first one is less important than the actual use. The camera obscura, in its simplest form, was a light-tight box or smallroom built for the purpose of allowing light in through a tiny pinhole. This early version of a camera projected an image through a pinhole (or later on, through a lens) onto the back inside wall.
Why did artists such as DaVinci want to project an image inside a box or room? The image could be traced by hand onto paper or canvas to give accurate perspective in drawings of natural scenes, landscapes or other features. For many artists of the day, use of a camera obscura was a fairly well-guarded secret. But, while it seems like a bit of a cheat, similar to painting over a photograph, it was simply one of many artistic tools.
In relation to photography's history, the camera obscura paved the way for images to be focused onto materials such as paper, metal or glass that were coated with light-sensitive materials. In a sense, it was much like the invention of horse carts before the existence of internal combustion engines. When the engine came along, the idea of a vehicle body, two axles and four wheels was already in place.
Hmmm. "They have good chemistry."
As research into photographic light-sensitivity progressed, it was found that various other compounds of silver were also photosensitive; some to much greater degrees. The precipitate produced by dissolving elemental (metallic) silver in nitric acid produces silver nitrate (AGNO3). Silver nitrate can undergo further reactions to produce halides which are even more photo-sensitive. These halides are produced through reactions with bromine (silver bromide - AgBr), iodine salts (silver Iodide - AgI) or in the presence of chloride ions (silver chloride - AgCl). Most of these silver compounds are not readily soluable in water, so a particularly challenging task for these early pioneers was to figure out ways of "sticking" the silver compound onto surfaces such as paper, glass, metal or early forms of 'organic plastic' known as celluloid.
(click HERE to go to History of Photography - Part B)
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