History of Photography

a Summary

Photography did not start with the camera as we know it today; in fact, photography had to evolve over thousands of years. The first known writing of a device that would work as a camera was written in 475 BC by Mozi a Chinese Philosopher, where he wrote about a device that would project an image onto a wall just like a pinhole camera.

Today’s modern photography does maintain this basic science of how an image is made. Yet with today’s technology, an image can be made in seconds where in the past it would have taken minutes or hours just to make one image. The ability to replicate the world around us is not a new and novel idea in fact it can be traced back to our ancient ancestors who drew the world around them. The oldest known image can be traced back to a cave system called the Maltravieso cave. This cave system is in Cáceres, Spain, the image is of red hands painted onto a cave wall.

A brief history of art

hand art work

The art of mark-making is as old as mankind, early humans sought out to recreate what they saw by rubbing different pigments across cave walls. The oldest known cave painting was found in Spain in the Maltravieso cave, near a town called Cáceres. This work has been dated using state of the art technology that uses the uranium-thorium method. The images found in this cave system are of red hands stenciled onto the cave walls and is said to be older than 64,000 years old. It is believed that the marks on the wall were made by Neanderthals. As Neanderthals evolved to what we now call humans the primal need to replicate the world around them only matured. This obsession to reproduce the world around them only became refined over time as did the technology.


A brief history of photography

Mo-ti (Mo Ti)
Camera Obscura

PPhotography, as we know it today had its humble beginnings, hundreds of years ago and has gone under multiple iterations. One of the first known mentions of a device that had the same capabilities of reproducing an image was by Mohism, Mo-ti (Mo Ti), better known as Mozi (Mo-Tzu). This device was called the pinhole camera. This pinhole camera gave way to the theory of capturing an image. To read more about Mo Ti click the learn more link.

It would not be until 350 BCE when Aristotle would make use of the principles of a pinhole camera. Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, his interest in the sciences led to his use of the principles of a pinhole camera by observing the sun during a partial solar eclipse with the use of tree leaves and the holes in leaves.

The word "photography" comes from two Greek root words. Photo, which means "light" and "graphy," which means to draw. Together photo and graphy mean "to draw with light." The first instrument that was called a camera was not a camera. Yet, it did influence how a camera works in today's age. This invention was called the camera obscura, invented by Ibn al-Haytham, between 1012 and 1021.

Ibn al-Haytham is considered the world's first scientist. Ibn al-Haytham made hundreds of scientific discoveries including how light works; during his time, Ibn al-Haytham wrote seven volumes on optics, including the famous book called The Book of Light and Sight.

The word camera obscura comes from the Latin word “camera,” which is a Latin word for a “chamber” or “room.” The word obscure is a Latin word meaning “dark.” This device was a large room with a lens on one side of the room, which would project an image across the room onto paper where the artist would trace the image. The image would be projected upside down onto the back wall, due to the convex optics in the lens. To learn about optics, Click the learn more button.


Camera Lucida
Camera Lucida

According to the Hockney-Falco thesis, many well-known artists could have used the camera obscura as a way to allow the artist to render their environment with a certain point of accuracy. The camera obscura had to be large so it could hold both the artist and the canvas all while being light-tight so an image could be projected onto the back wall, functioning as a large Pinhole camera. Much like a pinhole camera the camera obscure needs bright light on the outside to help project the image into the room. To learn about how the camera obscure works, Click the learn more button.

Later in 1806, William Hyde Wollaston invented the camera lucida. This invention was a smaller and faster way to trace a subject. The camera lucida used a mirror to reflect the subject down onto paper, allowing the artist to trace the image onto a piece of paper. To learn about how the camera lucida works, Click the learn more button.

The First Permanent Photo

The first photographic method was not invented until the early 1800s by Nicéphore Niépce, who was known as the father of photography. At this time, Niépce called his process the heliograph, which was the process of etching or carving an image into metal using Bitumen of Judea, a naturally occurring asphalt. The Bitumen of Judea would be spread onto a metal plate; then, a drawling would be placed and secured on top of the metal print then exposed to light. This exposure to light would cause a chemical reaction to the lighter parts of the drawing causing it to darken. After the exposure to light, the print would be taken off and the metal plate would go through a chemical bath. This process produced the first permanent negative photograph.

A few years later, in 1816, Niépce would experiment with making an image in a camera obscura, by placing a metal plate into the back of a camera obscura. This became known as the first known photograph made with a camera, which was the view of nature outside of his Window at Legrasse. This process of taking a photo in a camera obscura took 8 hours to expose.

A few years later, Niépce would create a photo that could be printed on a glass piece. By placing a photosensitive chemical onto a piece of glass and then putting it into a camera obscura. Thirteen years later, Louis Daguerre, a French artist, and photographer invented his process called the daguerreotype. This new process managed to save time when taking the exposure. This process only took 15 minutes to expose an image

Around the same time in England, Henry Fox Talbot was making his photographic discoveries. Both Daguerre and Talbot played significant roles in the history of photography. Daguerre's method was initially superior, but the future belonged to Talbot's technology.

Daguerre's procedure exposed an image directly onto a silver-plated copper plate. Talbot's process created a negative image onto paper from which multiple positive images would be made. Although Talbot's images were not sharp because of imperfections in the paper and the negative reduced the quality of the final print Talbot's method would be the foundation of 19th and 20th-century photography.

1839- The first practical process

After ten years, Daguerre produced the first practical photographic process. It was named the daguerreotype, and it used mirror-like images on a copper plate, which was developed with mercury.

It was not until the 19th Century that the photographic processes were moved onto paper by William Henry Fox Talbot. Talbot was an English scientist and inventor who later became a photographer. Talbot received credit as the person who invented the salted paper and calotype processes, which were the precursors of the photographic process that is known today.

Before the 1900s, most households did not have a camera. That all changed when George Eastman, an American entrepreneur, started his company in the late 1800s. Eastman was the founder of Eastman Kodak Company, a company that made cameras and film readily available to the public. In 1878, Eastman company Kodak changed film photography by introducing its new film process, allowing for photos to be printed faster.

Eastman popularized the use of black and white and color rolls of films. Eastman helped bring photography to the mainstream public; this gave way for many photographers to emerge like Cindy Sherman, Robert Frank, Frans Lanting, and Robert Capa. All these photographers were pioneers of photography as we know it today. Artists, like Man Ray, Salvador Dali, and Steve McCurry, pushed the limits of photography, making new and exciting works of art.

Photography today

Now, almost 200 years later, we still take photos, but the process has changed. We now take photos with smart devices. Most of today's work has moved away from printed media and into the digital world. With newer technology being available, digital format is what most people use. This drastic alteration has made one of the most significant changes to the world of photography.

Nowadays, most digital cameras are small enough to fit in our pockets or are simply on our phones. Over the years, they have also become more cost-effective, allowing more people to access this ever-growing medium. The ability to take a photo and share it right away caused the newest social phenomenon, which allowed anyone the ability to share images instantly on the world wide web. This ability to share images right away has allowed the exchange of new ideas of how images can be taken and enjoyed.

With the introduction of social media, the process of displaying photos has exploded! The act of sharing photos has driven a new wave of photographers. Now, anyone can show their work to friends, family, and/or the whole world just by uploading onto the internet. For instance, there are multiple sites where anyone can share their images, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Flicker, to name a few. By having the internet as an avenue for sharing photos, the possibilities of reaching an endless audience are limitless. Now, just by going online, anyone can see images that help shape the way they think and act. No longer is picking up a newspaper or going to the museum of modern art, the only way of seeing what is new and essential in the world.

However, this adjustment, in the way photography is viewed, does not come without responsibility. As a photographer, one needs to have an active role in social responsibility. Understanding that every photo that is shared can, and most likely will, have some form of social impact means that the photographer must be aware that every image can affect how someone sees the world. Where the work ends up is now more critical than ever. With the distribution of photos only limited by the viewer's interest, the photographers' work must tell a story, especially since the work that is published can have an immediate effect on viewers.

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