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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.

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre

Daguerre was interested in the invention of Niépce so he began a partnership with him in 1829, communicating either personally and by correspondence. He was the one who finally transformed the recent innovation in something even more practical. He made primarily the process shorter by using different chemicals that required less time of exposure to have the impression in a appreciatable condition. However the first works of Daguerre towards his attainment failed at resistance as the prints would darken to a totally black plate after exposed to sunlight. After some more investigation he finally succeeded in producing a long lasting photograph by using a silvered copper plate. The realization took place in 1837, couple of years after the death of Niépce. The process developed was denominated as Daguerreotype, and was recognized by the son of Niépce as an invention whose credits should be given to Daguerre. In 1839, these two important figures in the history of photography sold the rights of Daguerreotype and Heliography to the French government. A booklet was published by Daguerre shortly later titled as An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Various Processes of the Daguerreotype and the Diorama, describing fully the use of the new technique. Simultaneously with the French inventors, another british scientist named William Henry Fox Talbot also tried to develop his photographic method. He used similar processes to create the impressions but wasted some time to find a way to make his photographs more lasting. By the time he concluded his discovery and the British authorities announced the invention, in 1839, Daguerre was already gaining popularity for his development even though the French government introduced it officially to the world only months after the British. Besides Talbot, other people around the world tried to claim the credits for the creation of the photographic process but they failed in documenting and introducing them to the world, giving insufficient evidences of their advance.

Daguerre's Studio. The picture was titled as Still Life.
The first image produced with the daguerreotype method.

Since photography became known to the world it went through a large diversity of modifications, improvements, interpretations and opinions. In general, the world was really happy with the utility while others, specially visual artists expressed their belief that photography would vanish them from the world. And after the many decades with the appearance of styles and heroes inside this field, the technology of the cameras and its facilitated access changed completely the understanding of the meaning behind it. Making a photo has become something that goes unnoticed for the massive majority of the population, they are created and shared to the world in tons and it's become very tricky for new photographers to realize what makes their images special. Probably, examining my own experience, the answer comes from a sincere desire, to feel what happens inside one's mind when he is taking shots or looking at his works. If photography is one's career for life, he will feel pleasure in taking his pictures and perceive an existential fulfillment without caring about what challenges he's gonna face by following his impulses.


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