Saturday, October 30, 2010

The French Started It!

Real photography began in the early 1800's, and it was in France that it happened. French inventor Nicephore Niepce produced the first photograph in 1822, a "photoetching" which was done using a camera obscura. Unfortunately, this image was destroyed when he tried to reproduce it. He was successful in 1826 with a permanent image, created using the camera obscura. However, he wasn't satisfied with the process, which took eight hours to develop. Together with Louis Daguerre (also French), he started experimenting with chemicals, based on an earlier discovery (by Johann Heinrich Schultz - Germany, 1816) that a mixture of silver and chalk would darken when exposed to light. Niepce died in 1833, but Daguerre carried on the work. He was finally successful with the chemical photographic process in 1837, and these early photographs were known as "daguerreotypes," since they were invented by Daguerre.
The first known photograph, or daguerreotype, of a person was taken in 1839 in Paris (shown above), and the inclusion of this person was rather inadvertant. This particular gentleman happened to be getting his shoes shined on the Paris street being photographed, and thus was still long enough to be clearly captured in the image (the process still took several minutes).

Ancient History

"Photography as a usable process goes back to the 1820's with the development of chemical photography," says Wikipedia. Even earlier (much earlier!), elements of photography were discovered. The pinhole camera (remember making those in elementary school?) was described in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. by Greeks Aristotle and Euclid, and by Chinese philosopher Mo Di. Then in the sixth century A.D., a Byzantine architect named Anthemius described using the "camera obscura" in his experiments. This concept was then furthered by scientist Abu Ali Al-Hasan Ibn Al-haytham of Basra during the early eleventh century. Both of these early "cameras" were dark boxes with a small hole (pinhole), through which an image passed and was reflected on the opposite side of the box (or projected onto a screen, as in the camera obscura). The image was upside down - a similar physical process to that which happens in our eyes, when we view something. When this early image was projected onto a screen, it could then be traced to render a very precise reproduction of the original image.
Several chemicals involved in photography were discovered in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, and several chemical and physical processes used in photography were toyed with in the 15- and 1600s. All of this research led up to the first real photography in the early 1800's.

History of Photography...

I recently saw an article portraying a very early picture, made sometime before the mid-nineteenth century, that was arguably the first picture of people. Now I have always loved photography; that is, taking pictures and looking at pictures. But that article piqued my interest in the history of photography. I have frequently wondered exactly how modern photography works, but never really stopped to do the research. But even more fascinating would be the study of how they made it work as early as the 1830's! So here I will record my findings, and anything I discover of interest that pertains to photography. Perhaps I will become a better photographer!