The term photography came in to proper use in 1839. It is derived from the Greek phos, meaning light and graphos, writing. Sometimes coined “painting with light”.
Recently I was exhibiting at a large photo fair. Amidst the chatter, a young couple came up to me. The guy said, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what filter do you use?” Filter I say, that is no filter… This led on to my explaining how I had achieved said images by using photographic film and processing them through the wrong chemicals on purpose: this is known as cross-processing. He was impressed and said “so you do it the real way?” Well, I guess I do.
This conversation however did make me realise how, A) I need to explain my work more clearly and B) newcomers into photography may know nothing about how we got to where we are now, so here is a potted history:
Around the 1830’s men all around Europe were playing around with creating images using light and then fixing them permanently to a surface.
It’s a little uncertain as to who should claim the title of inventor. Whilst studying my photography A Level I was told it was William Henry Fox Talbot, but it seems he was not the only person experimenting with new ‘photographic’ processes. He did however invent the negative-positive process.
Over in France Joseph Nicéphore Niépce had made the first permanent image onto pewter. He then collaborated with Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, who after the death of Niépce discovered that images could be ‘developed’ by use of chemicals, which cut down exposure times from hours to minutes.
For the first decade or so of photography, the images were of more static subjects or large scenes, partly following on from a convention in still life from the traditional art world, but largely because of the long exposures required. It was impossible to capture nature’s more fleeting effects such as washing blowing on a line or a windmill turning.
From its outset photography was a good mix of art and science, though more accessible to the affluent and influential in society. Photography progressed both technically and in it’s uses. Wars were documented and lesser-known societies represented.
Two big advancements came in the shape of flexible film (rather than solid plates) and lightweight/portable cameras. This is thanks to George Eastman and his company, Kodak, founded in 1889.
Cameras were becoming more affordable for the average person and photographic imagery began to be reproduced in printed publications. In 1903 the Daily Mirror was the first daily paper to be illustrated solely with photographs.
Prior to digital the most significant advance was the introduction of colour photography.
Over the years photography has influenced the worlds of medicine, the arts, science, politics, celebrity as well as keeping a record of our personal lives.
Vive la Photographie!
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