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  By Mike Valeriani

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History of Photography

A drawing of an old photographer, pillar in history of photographyThe History of Photography is a very much discussed one. We can’t say that photography was invented by one person, because it is really the combination of many inventions and discoveries that brought to the invention of photography as we know it today.

Lets go slightly deeper into this, but not for too long (I'm sure you don't want to know that much about history of photography). Way before the first photograph was created, a few philosophers of the past (and I mean back a very long time, we’re talking thousands of years) like Chinese Mo Ti and Greeks Aristotle and Euclid described the principles of a pinhole camera.

Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), an Iraqi scientist (Mesopotamia 965-1040 AD), studied very extensively the camera obscura optics and visual perception. Albertus Magnus (13th century) discovered an important chemical element to photography: silver nitrate (AgNO3).

An antique camera to complement an article on history of photographyGeorges Fabricius (16th century) discovered another important chemical element: silver chloride (AgCl). Italian Daniele Barbaro described the principals of a diaphragm in 1568. The concepts of how light darkens some chemical components was described in 1694 by Wilhelm Homberg and French writer Tiphaigne de la Roche described what can be interpreted as photography in the 16th century.

So, for thousands of years images have been projected on surfaces. Before the invention of photography as we know it today, images were projected with the use of a camera obscura in order to draw pictures nearer to reality. This camera obscura was often a room with a pinhole opening on a wall that allowed the outside image to be formed on a paper or canvas surface.

History of photography: first photograph taken by Joseph Nicephore NiepceIt was in 1826 that Joseph Nicephore Niepce is an important man for the history of photography, as he obtained the very first image that we can still see today. The image on the left was taken by Joseph Nicephore Niepce from the window of his studio, in Saint Loup de Varennes, central France not far South of Dijon. It required and exposure of 8 hours.

Many attempts were made to obtain this image and it is thought that the very first image of this type had been accidentally destroyed. Joseph Nicephore Niepce called this process heliograph (from the Greek helios (sun) and graphos (drawing).

The very first photographs of a man, taken by Louis DaguerreJoseph Nicephore Niepce did not live to see the impact photography was to have.

He died of a stroke in 1833 leaving all his notes to his 4 years long project partner Louis Daguerre - another very important man for the history of photography; a chemist and an artist who lived in Paris, widely known for the invention of the daguerreotype process of photography.

The image on the right is the very first photograph of a human being. You probably can’t see much, but on the lower left there is a man having his shoes polished. The exposure time for this image was a record 10 minutes. The daguerreotype was made on a highly polished surface of silver that was plated on a copper sheet. During the exposure, the plate recorded a latent image, which is a chemical change in the material without visible evidence. The evidence will only show later, when it will be developed and fixed.

An old camera used to make the shape of a dog as art formThree weeks after the announcement of the daguerreotype, an English amateur scientist named William Henry Fox Talbot, appeared before the Royal Institution of Great Britain to announce that he also had invented a process to fix an image. He called his invention calotype after the Greek kalos (beautiful) and typos (impression). Talbot realized the importance of having photographs on paper rather than on metal. His images could be reproduced easily: he placed the fully developed paper negative in contact with another sheet of sensitive paper and exposed both to light.

This process is now commonly known as contact printing. Even though the calotype had some serious advantages over the daguerreotype, it never became as popular due to the softer and slightly textured images it produced. The lower quality was caused by the fibres in the photographic paper.

The collodion wet plate process combined the good qualities of both the daguerreotype and collotype. It had been used from its introduction in 1851 until the arrival of the gelatin dry plate 30 years later. By 1860 millions of photographic images had been created around the world; only 27 years earlier there was only one.

I hope you enjoyed this brief journey through the history of photography. I wish you all the best in this fascinating science, that I urge you to turn at least into a hobby. 




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