Lecture One

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Day One : The truth of photography

The camera is a machine. A simple statement but pivotal in understanding photography. No other art form relies on a machine to produce images. The fluid, organic artist must master the machine in order to communicate a message.

Many people state, "Well anyone can take a picture". Indeed anyone can take a picture but professional photographers take photographs. Everyone has an individual form of expression, vantage point, ethos about them. Lucy Goodson (http://www.lucygoodson.com) began her lecture with the image (above) of a young Sioux man. Goodson asked the audience, "When do you think this photograph was taken?" The timelessness of the image resulted in a myriad assortment of shouted responses. "It could have been taken in the early 1900's", one lady chirped while others said, "Ten years ago maybe".

In fact, the image was taken fairly recently by Lucille Goodson. The image revealed that using older processes today can result in a difficult time distinguishing imitation from the actual pieces produced years ago. Nearly all student photographers begin by imitating the giants upon whose shoulders they stand. Thus Lucille Goodson embarked on a journey through the advent of photography: choosing to go thoroughly through her topic rather than hastely through the catalogue of milestones.

Lucy let the audience meet Lucy Goodson the photographer in order to become acquainted with the individuality of a photographer. This is vital to the understanding of photography. From the roots of its inception the scientists who would usher in this innovation would be swept away by the verisimilitude intermingling with the artistic.

Science Versus Art

Before the camera was even invented Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Euclid described a pinhole camera in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C.E.2

The novel Giphantie (by the French Tiphaigne de la Roche, 1729-1774) described what can be interpreted as photography. Giphantie is a novel by Tiphaigne de la Roche, Charles-François published in 1760. An excerpt from the novel describes: “You know, that rays of light reflected from different bodies form pictures. The spirits have sought to fix these fleeting image … The canvas is then removed and deposited in a dark place. An hour later the impression is dry, and you have a picture the more precious in that no art can imitate its truthfulness.”3

  1. The Camera Obscura

In 1490 Leonardo Da Vinci gave two clear descriptions of the camera obscura in his notebooks. Many of the first camera obscuras were large rooms like that illustrated by the Dutch scientist Reinerus Gemma-Frisius in 1544 for use in observing a solar eclipse.

Below: Leonardo DaVinci sketch of optics in his journal4


The term "camera obscura" was first used by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler in the early 17th century. He used it for astronomical applications and had a portable tent camera for surveying in Upper Austria.

Below: an image created by Giovanni Battista Della Porta in his 1558 book Magiae Naturalis


Here is an image created by Giovanni Battista Della Porta in his 1558 book Magiae Naturalis. Della Porta recommended the use of this device as an aid for drawing for artists. In the 17th and 18th century many artists were aided by the use of the camera obscura. Jan Vermeer, Canaletto, Guardi, and Paul Sandby are representative of this group. By the beginning of the 19th century the camera obscura was ready with little or no modification to accept a sheet of light sensitive material to become the photographic camera.6

Leonardo da Vinci gave a clear description of the Camera Obscura in the 16th century.7

Below: an image of DaVinci's camera obscura description


The camera obscura (Latin veiled chamber) is an optical device composed of a box (can be a building, room, etc.) with a hole in one side. Light travels in a straight line and when some of the rays reflected from a bright subject pass through a small hole in thin material they do not scatter but cross and reform as an upside down image on a flat surface. This law of optics was known in ancient times.
A pin-hole camera is an extension of the camera obscura. Light from a scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface where it is reproduced, in color, and upside-down. The image's perspective is accurate. The image can be projected onto paper, which when traced can produce a highly accurate representation. Using mirrors, as in the 18th century overhead version it is possible to project a right-side-up image. Another more portable type is a box with an angled mirror projecting onto tracing paper placed on the glass top, the image upright as viewed from the back.

Below: a camera obscura


Below: is the image of an entire room as a camera obscura

  1. The Camera Lucida

Below: a camera lucida


Both the camera obscura and lucida were used as drawing aids. Traditional silhouette portrait's of the late 18th century were also commonly created using the camera lucida. Frederick Catherwood and others used the camera lucida as a tool to duplicate key points of a scene on a drawing surface, thus aiding in the accurate rendering of perspective. The camera lucida performs an optical superimposition of the subject being viewed upon the surface upon which the artist is drawing. The artist sees both scene and drawing surface simultaneously, as in a photographic double exposure. At times, the artist can even trace the outlines of objects.12

Lucy elucidated upon Frederick Catherwood an excellent draftsman who used the camera lucida to aid in his drafting. Frederick Catherwood (27 February 1799 – 27 September 1854) was an English artist of Northern Irish ancestry, and architect, best remembered for his meticulously detailed drawings of the ruins of the Maya civilization.

Below: here is an image created by Frederick Catherwood using the camera lucida


Below: another image created by Catherwood using the camera lucida


Catherwood's work is significant in that they show the hyperrealism that the camera lucida provided. The classically trained artists would aim for realistic representations of reality. This goal of imitating reality fueled the pursuit to create photography.

Below: Frederick Catherwood, ca 1840


Nicephore Niepce gets duped by Louis Daguerre

  1. Niecephore Niepce & Heliography

Niepce experimented with lithography13, which led him in his attempt to take a photograph using a camera obscura. Niépce also experimented with silver chloride, which darkens when exposed to light, but eventually looked to the bitumen, which he used in his first successful attempt at capturing nature photographically.

Below: lavender oil

He dissolved the bitumen in lavender oil, a solvent often used in varnishes, and coated the sheet of pewter with this light capturing mixture. He placed the sheet inside a camera obscura to capture the picture, and eight hours later removed it and washed it with lavender oil to remove the unexposed bitumen. This process would be termed Heliography (in French, héliographie). It became the photographic process invented by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce around 1825, and which he used to make the earliest known permanent photograph from nature, View from the Window at Le Gras (c. 1826). The process used bitumen, as a coating on glass or metal, which hardened in relation to exposure to light. When the plate was washed with oil of lavender, only the hardened image area remained.

Below: the First Photograph


Louis Daguerre

Below: Louis Daguerre ca 1810


Daguerre worked with Niepce up until his death. When Niepce died Daguerre patented their joint product solely under his name the Daguerrotype. Thus sealing his fate as a forefather in photography and stealing all credit and not mentioning Niepce's tremendous contributions. The daguerreotype is an early type of photograph in which the image is exposed directly onto a mirror-polished surface of silver bearing a coating of silver halide particles deposited by iodine vapor. In later developments bromine and chlorine vapors were also used, resulting in shorter exposure times. The daguerreotype is a negative image, but the mirrored surface of the metal plate reflects the image and makes it appear positive in the proper light. Thus, daguerreotype is a direct photographic process without the capacity for duplication.

While the daguerreotype was not the first photographic process to be invented, earlier processes required hours for successful exposure, which made the daguerreotype the first commercially viable photographic process and the first to permanently record and fix an image with exposure time compatible with portrait photography.14

Below: L’Atelier de l'artiste : First Daguerrotype by Daguerre.


Below: "Boulevard du Temple" : the first person in a photograph


Below: Daguerrotype of Abraham Lincoln taken in 1864


Below: Famous daguerrotype of Edgar Allen Poe


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