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The birth of photography

Updated: May 13, 2020

My passion would not be real if some certain people throughout centuries hadn't struggled and studied hard to develop a way to reproduce mechanically a visual and loyal representation of the visible world around us. I have shared recently a sequence of posts related to the history of photography, in general by presenting briefly the biography of important names of this sphere and also an article about the Leica M6, which is deemed as one of the best cameras ever fabricated. And today I wanna share with you a bit about the actual start of photography, the names that contributed for the creation of this process and the reproduction of the first photograph seen by our race.

Camera obscura

The principle of photography was known to man way before than most people believe. The camera obscura, studied since more than 2000 years ago by the Chinese and even Aristotle in Greece is an instrument consisting of a box or room, which contains at the center of one of its sides a small hole. The light coming from outside radiates inside the box through the hole and duplicates on the opposite wall a projection of the ambient visible in front of the hole. In the 16th century an italian scientist named Giambattista della Porta described in richness of details the use of the camera obscura utilizing a lens on place of the hole. His contribution helped many painters and drawers in producing their work. They made use of the camera obscura to trace their creations by using the projection of the instrument. Moreover Giambattista's investigation aroused in other inventors the interest to develop a way through which they could have the projections imprinted on a surface. In this sense, Johann Heinrich Schulze in 1727 achieved a significant advance by explaining that the darkening of silver salts upon sunlight were resulted not in consequence of the heat but of the light. His discovery was combined with the camera obscura and gave life to the first image impressed on paper using an automatic process. To be more specific, a french amateur inventor named Nicéphore Niépce, approximately in 1826, succeeded in replicating on a light-sensitive surface of a pewter plate the view to his courtyard using the camera obscura.

World's first photograph, produced by Niépce.

The process, named as heliography so far was already revolutionary, but his prints had yet an issue with time as they needed many hours of exposure upon sunlight to be finally clear and distinguishable. His creation became then known to an important artist named Louis Daguerre. Daguerre had been already working with the dioramas in Paris, gigantic illustrations complemented with physical objects of the scene that were placed as to make the work more realistic and illusionary.