Two Centuries of Drawing with Light

Two Centuries of Drawing with Light

August 1, 2018 Off By Gancio Cielo
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It’s hard to imagine our world without photographs, isn’t it? It’s amazing how immensely the art of photography has changed society in such a short span of time. Photography has influenced all aspects of humanity since its creation, evolving as we do as we navigate the digital age.



Capturing Light and Preserving it Forever

Photography is a word coined by Sir John F.W. Herschel, a scientist, in 1839 originating from the Greek words photos meaning “light” and graphein which means “to draw or write”. He used this term to describe the recording of images through light or other radiant energy on a light sensitive surface.

Experimentation in this vein began much earlier, however, with Alhazen also known as Ibn Al-Haytham, in the Middle Ages. He invented the pin-hole camera, or camera obscura, and explained why the images were upside down, according to records from the period.

Alhazen’s images faded with time, however, and it wasn’t until the early 1800s that photographic pioneers were able to create images that stayed.

Heliographs Made Quite an Impression

The very first photographic image was developed by Joseph Niepce in 1827. His heliographs, more commonly called sun prints, using a camera obscura. By the 1800s, the camera obscura had become a tool often used by artists for drawing.

Niepce teamed up with fellow photographer Louis Daguerre and together they experimented and created photographic methods which were both convenient and effective for photographers. After Niepce passed away, his son and Daguerre, who now promoted his photographs as daguerreotypes, sold the rights to this process to the French government in 1839.

Photography Caught on with the Speed of Light

As can be imagined, the daguerreotype method of photography spread quickly. It reached American shores in New York first, where Samuel B Morse, inventor of the telegraph, set up a photography studio after meeting Daguerre in Paris as an art student.

The methodology of creating photographs evolved quickly, as the daguerreotype process gave way to ambrotype, which was less expensive and faster than its predecessor. Ambrotype was best by Henry Fox Talbot when he sensitized paper to light with a silver salt solution. Exposure to light left this paper black, and the subject shown in shades of grey. This process was known as Calotype and produced the first negative images that allowed for reproduction of a single image.

Selfies and Travel Photography Have Always Been a Thing

One of the first self-portrait photographs was taken in 1839 by Robert Cornelius, making him a selfie pioneer. Tintype and daguerreotype photos captured historic moments and panoramic views throughout most of the mid-19th century.

As photographic representation of society became more popular advances in film and camera technology have kept pace with demand. Early leaders in film, such as Kodak and Polaroid revolutionized the photographic landscape only to be replaced by digital photography in more recent years. So, go ahead, snap that perfect picture and leave your mark on history. Future generations may use it to study us.