Thursday, March 10, 2005

History of Photography

From the beginning of time, humankind has recorded its own history through oral traditions, pictures, song and eventually photography. Photography is the process of taking a picture with a device and later printing what is captured by that camera in some way, shape or form.

The history of photography dates back to ancient times, when civilizations such as the Ottomans and Greeks used pieces of paper and pinholes to burn onto parchment pictures drawn on one surface to another. While highly unsuccessful, the pinhole would manage to capture obscure fragments of a picture, and early photography had begun.

Modern photography, however, began in the year 1839 when the actual name came to the art form from Sir John Herschel. Photography is made up of two separate processes that make the entire art form possible. The first process was optical, the second was chemical.

"Camera obscura," the dark room, is the optical form. The idea of the dark room had existed for more than 400 years and was used to aid drawing in the time of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo to aid the exposure to light paintings and drawings came under fire from while lying around studios. As light damages drawings and paintings, it also damages photographs when developing.

Chemically, photographs have to be developed on paper in order to be preserved and viewed. Robert Boyle, in the 1600s, determined that silver chloride would darken when exposed to light. Angelo Sala, in the early 1700s, noticed that powdered nitrate – from silver – would blacken when exposed to light. Johann H. Schulze also discovered the certain liquids, such as water, changed color when exposed to light for long periods of time. Finally, in the beginning of the nineteenth century, Thomas Wedgwood began conducting experiments piecing together all of the above as he had captured images with a crude camera but he could not make the images permanent on anything.

Almost a century later, in 1827, Joseph Niepce was able to capture the first image to paper after more than eight hours of exposure and many botched attempts in various chemicals discovered centuries before his time. After Niepce died, Louis Daguerre spent years trying to perfect his colleagues' techniques and eventually discovered a way to develop photographic plates – much like printing plates – to reduce the exposure time down to half an hour. He is also responsible for discovering that with common table salt, one could make an image permanent on paper. These discoveries were made public a few years later as details of the process spread throughout Europe and elsewhere.

Many people were skeptical of the new process, mostly because of religious objections, as they believed nobody but their Christian God could capture the essence of any one thing. However, they were wrong, as the ability to capture anything was now in the hands of mankind. A more minor movement, of painters, predicted that drawing and painting would soon fall victim to the art of photography.

As word spread of the new process and the art of photography, more people became interested in pursuing it actively. The demand for photographs grew and a livelihood was possible for a select few from the art with the right patronage.

In 1851, Frederick S. Archer introduced the Collodion process of photograph development; this reduced the exposure time to three seconds, making it much easier for the average man to print a photograph. From there, he developed the wet Collodion process which required much equipment to process a photograph while still wet and in chemicals. However, the process was very difficult, and the need for a dry process was deemed required.

Richard Maddox, around 1870, used Gelatin instead of glass as the base of a photograph's base, thus allowing a dry process to fully develop. They could be developed much quicker in this fashion and the idea of mass-produced, Industrial Age factory photographs could be pursued.

John Carbutt invented celluloid which later became the backing for sensitive film; George Eastman, a notable photographer, introduced flexible film in the 1880s. He then, in 1888, introduced the camera box, the first actual film camera. Now, photography could reach everyone who desired to take a picture.

From there, the art form took off, and we find today the modern realm of photography changing from print to digital in a matter of years. Today even the most novice photographer can easily take thousands of pictures with a digital camera and get the perfect shot, something the early photographers never even dreamed of doing in their lifetimes.

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