Sunday, 20 February 2011

Photography - some History

This morning I've been catching up with Jeff Curto's excellent History of Photography podcasts.
This is what I picked up from it and maybe it would get you interested enough to go and listen to his podcasts.
(These notes I took whilst listening to his Class 2 Spring 11 podcast)

Artists grappled with how to convey perspective, motion and distance and space. An Arabian scholar was the first to record how a pin-hole image appeared around 900AD!
'Camera obscura' means 'room dark' ( from the Italian)
Artists like Van Eyck and Vermeer used the camera obscura to paint highly accurate and realistic images - including aspects of lenses, i.e. blur and depth of field. So they start to paint out of focus stuff. Interestingly, at the same time Asian art remains flat and lacking in realism because they were more interested in telling the story than getting perspective etc correct.

Niepce is seen as the person who produced the first photograph in 1827 using his bitumen coated metal plate process.
Daguerre worked with Niepce to come up with the process eventually to be called 'daguerreotype' which produced very sharp, very detailed, one of a kind plate images. Costly but became very popular as people wanted a portrait of themselves and family. So photography began in January 1839. One of the best and a famous daguerreotype is of abolitionist Frederick Douglass:

 Meanwhile in England Henry Fox-Talbot came up with his 'Calotype' process which involved light sensitive paper to make the negative placed on light sensitive paper to produce the positive image. This meant you could reproduce many prints but the image was fuzzy.

The 'wet plate collodian' process, invented by another Brit called Frederick Scott Archer, made sharper images that could be reproduced. However, you had to quickly expose and develop your plate so the photographer had to basically have a darkroom with him. Wet plate collodian images were printed on Albumen paper and the size of your print was the size of you plate. So if you wanted a large print, you had to have a large plate format camera. Landscape and travel photography becomes popular and most pictures from the period 1851-1880 would have been produced using this process. Carlton Watkins image of Yosemite (about 60years before Adams)
War photography also emerges, but the need for all the chemicals and speed for the developing meant the images are of AFTER the battles which makes them interesting narratives. Roger Fenton:

This inability to capture the excitement of battle caused some photographers to manipulate and set up scenes. Alexander Gardner's now infamous 'dead body moving' to create better images for example.

Sir John Herschel coined the phrases 'negative' 'positive' and 'photography'. He also came up with the chemical we call fixer.

Other people and topics touched on: Eadweard Muybridge; stereoscopic photography; cartes de visite; dry glass plates; George Eastman.

The wonderful Julia Margaret Camera was also discussed but she deserves a blog all of her own! An image of hers for now:

Well, there it is. Just some lecture notes really, so try Jeff's podcasts - they are very informative.

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