Week 6 Lesson 1: The Development of the Camera
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There are said to be three things that changed the art world forever: paper, oil, and the camera. The camera obscura was the first camera, and it led to the development of the rules of perspective, or the representation of how an image is seen by the eye. Many believe that as early as the 15th century, the camera obscura was used as an aid in drawing. The camera obscura was a tool that could produce images with a linear perspective. It was used to help draw maps, architectural designs, and pictures. It is likely that the camera obscura played a role in teaching artists about perspective.
Watch the following clip about the origins of the camera obscura and how it was used in art:
Captured Light: Camera Obscura (1:00)
The scientific principals required for photography had been discovered by at least 1727. Johann Heinrich Schulze, a German physician, and Nicéphore Niépce, a French inventor, were among the first to realize that certain chemicals turned dark when exposed to light (Sayre, p. 393). Niépce made the first partially successful photograph of an image in about 1816. In 1826, Niepce’s successfully made one of the first photographs, the View from the Window at Gras. This process used a very slow speed of exposure, which made it almost impossible to photograph most subjects. The image is a view from an upstairs window. It is blurry due to the eight-hour exposure time which affected the clarity of the image. He used paper, silver chloride, and a very small camera, but the image was not permanent. Niépce did not know how to keep the image from darkening; although he continued to experiment for the remainder of his life, he could not perfect the process (Marignier, 1990).
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. View from the Window at Le Gras, 1826 or 1827. Photograph. (Public Domain)
Several inventors in England and France figured out how to keep the image from darkening by 1839. In England, William Henry Fox Talbot used paper coated in light-sensitive chemicals to invent photogenic drawing. Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre, the French inventor who had partnered with Niépce, created the daguerreotype, a process which transferred the image to a polished metal plate (Sayre, 2010).
Louis Daguerre. Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 1838. Daguerreotype. (Public Domain)
Watch the following video to learn more about Niépce and Daguerre, their relationship, and their experiments with photography. Here we explore the scientific aspects of photography:
With the invention of photography, the art of portrait painting would almost cease to exist. Just ten years after the process was perfected, over 100,000 of these types of portraits were being sold in Paris each year. Costing about 15 francs to purchase, this new medium made personalized portraits available to the middle and working classes and not just the wealthy (Sayre, 2010).
Frederic Chopin, 1846. Daguerreotype. (Public Domain)
Photography’s Impact on Realism and Impressionism
With these new and exciting inventions and developments, modern society was on the cusp of developing. Young artists began to question why art was focused on classical gods and biblical stories during this time of invention and progress. Some progressive thinkers of the time, Charles Baudelaire and Gustave Courbet, began to develop revolutionary ideas about what art should be. Courbet was of the belief that art should depict real life. He also thought art should have a social consciousness that would bring the realities of life to the forefront of society. This was the advent of Realism in the art world. The art of the Realists and the advent of photography both tried to accomplish the same goal: to create images of the ordinary world (Marignier, 1990).
Gustave Courbet. Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet, 1854. Oil on canvas. (Public Domain)
In contrast, another art movement that developed at this time was Impressionism. Critics disliked Impressionism immensely when it was first introduced. The term Impressionism was created by an art critic, Louis Leroy. When Leroy first saw Monet’s work Impression Sunrise, he stated, “Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished!” (Harris & Zucker, 2019, para. 9). After the second Impressionist exhibition, another critic, Albert Wolff, criticized the works of Pissarro and Renior. Most critics and viewers did not like Impressionist paintings and thought that they looked unfinished, strange, illegible, and unappealing in terms of color and drawing.
Claude Monet. Impression Sunrise, 1872. Oil on canvas. (Public Domain)
Some art historians argue that the creation of the Impressionist movement was an effect of the invention of the camera. Impressionists created a style of art that could not be captured by a picture and in a way began to compete with the photographers. A photo created an exact copy of a scene, in the same way that Realism did. Impressionism forced the viewer to see a scene is a different way. Many historians think that early photographs with a fuzzy impression of a scene were one of the influences on the development of Impressionism (Marignier, 1990).
Advancement in Technology
Since the invention of the camera obscura, the technology of photography has improved through the ages from daguerreotypes, to calotypes, to dry plates, to film and now to digital cameras and smart phones. In addition to its effect on painting, the invention of the camera also created the art of photography itself. Early photographers made sure that the abilities of the camera were discovered. The camera was not only a device to copy an image mechanically; it could be done artistically as well. The photographer and the painter continue to learn from one another even to this day.
Ansel Adams. The Tetons and Snake River, 1942. Photograph. (Public Domain – NAID 519904)
Ansel Adams. (1942). The Tetons and Snake River [Photograph]. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=118192
Braaark. (2019). Frederic Chopin [Daguerrotype]. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75745027
Courbet, G. (1854). Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet [Oil on canvas]. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=149648
Daguerre, L. (1997). Boulevard du Temple [Daguerreotype ]. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5005681 (Original work completed 1838)
Grow, K. (2014). How smartphones have changed the way we experience photography. Time Magazine. https://time.com/3811490/smartphone-photography-at-woodstock/
Harris, B., and Zucker, S. (2019). How the Impressionists got their name. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/becoming-modern/avant-garde-france/impressionism/a/how-the-impressionists-got-their-name
Impressionism.org. (2019). Radicalism of Impressionism: “Trees are not violet; the sky is not butter!” http://www.impressionism.org/teachimpress/browse/aboutimpress.htm
Marignier, J. L. (1990). Historical light on photography. Nature, 346, 115.
Monet, C. (1872). Impression sunrise [Oil on canvas]. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23750619
Niépce, J. N. (2005). View from the window at Le Gras [Photograph]. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=107221 (Original work completed 1826 or 1827)
Sayer, H. M. (2010). Discovering the humanities. Prentice Hall.
Smith, B. (Producer). (1996). Captured light [Video ]. A&E Television Networks. Academic Video Online.
Waneka, R. (2015). How social media is changing photography, and why that is a good thing. Medium. https://medium.com/lab-work/how-social-media-is-changing-photography-and-why-that-is-a-good-thing-91d356adf77c
Week 6 Lesson 2: The Smartphone as Camera
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Photography has always depended on technology, and every change in technology has affected the history of photography, but the smartphone, in its nature, is a device that is not for photography. It’s a device that is for communication. It makes perfect sense that a new kind of photography would evolve from that. (Henry Jacobson cited in Grow, 2014, para. 3)
Instagram collage with 15 different filters. 2011. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
From the camera obscura to 35 mm film to the instant camera to the digital camera – we now find ourselves in an age where our primary device for communication is also a high-quality camera. Pictures can be taken and then shared all over the world in seconds.
The smartphone and apps with filters and editing capabilities have democratized photography in way that no other camera advancement has before. Now everyone has the tools to be a semi-professional photographer and take and edit gorgeous photos in minutes. You do not need to be a trained photographer with an expensive camera to take beautiful pictures. Apps like Snapseed, Adobe Photoshop Express, and Superimpose offer features such as filters, brighter colors, blemish fix, add text, blend images, resize, scale, and contrast. These apps also offer an auto-fix feature for those of us who want to edit a picture quickly to its best advantage so that we can post it.
Social media influencers, business owners, and everyday people spend a lot of time taking, editing, and posting aesthetically pleasing pictures on social media to gain followers and impress others. The main type of picture posted on social media is the vacation shot with a beautiful sunset, gorgeous view, breathtaking ocean, or some sumptuous meal at a fabulous restaurant.
The smartphone camera and instantaneous sharing has changed the social dynamic of our society, and not always in a good way. Some say that this excessive picture taking is destroying the art of photography, but not all photographers agree with this. Professional photographers are using Instagram to build large groups of followers. What better way than to jump start your career than to build your fan base through social media?
Deep down, most people still recognize the value of a talented photographer and can tell the difference between an Instagram filtered picture of the clouds in the sky and a picture that was taken with a professional camera with consideration to lighting, shutter speed, and aperture. People will always take their own pictures of the happenings in their lives and their vacations, but when it really matters, many people will still hire a professional to capture the most important moments.
Grow, K. (2014, August 26). How smartphones have changed the way we experienced photography. Retrieved from https://time.com/3811490/smartphone-photography-at-woodstock/
Ragesoss. (2011, April 25). Instagram collage with 15 different filters [Image file]. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16235834
Week 6 Lesson 1: The Development of the Camera