Photography is the process of forming stable or permanent visible images directly or indirectly by the action of light or other forms of radiation on sensitive surfaces. Traditional photography uses the action of light to cause changes in a film of silver halide crystals in which development converts exposed silver halide to non -sensitive) metallic silver. Following exposure in a camera or other device, the film or plate is developed, fixed in a solution that dissolves the undeveloped silver halide, washed to remove the soluble salts, and dried. Printing from the original, if required, is done by contact or optical projection onto a second emulsion-coated material, and a similar sequence of processing steps is followed. Digital photography captures images directly with an electronic photosensor.
Photography is the process of making pictures by means of capturing light on a light-sensitive medium, such as a sensor or film. Light patterns reflected or emitted from objects are recorded onto a sensitive medium or storage chip through a timed exposure. The most common process is done through mechanical, chemical or digital devices known as cameras. The word comes from the Greek words phos “light”, and graphis “stylus”, “paintbrush” or “representation by means of lines” or “drawing”, together meaning “drawing with light.” Traditionally the product of photography has been called a photograph. The term photo is an abbreviation; many people also call them pictures. In digital photography, the term image has begun to replace photograph the term image is traditional in geometric optics.
The necessary first breakthrough in photography was in a different, not eye centred area—that of making permanent photographic images. Employing data from the researches of Johann Heinrich Schulze—who, in 1727, discovered that silver nitrate darkened upon exposure to light—Thomas Wedgwood and Sir Humphry Davy, early in the 19th cent., created what we now call photograms. These were made by placing assorted objects on paper soaked in silver nitrate and exposing them to sunlight. Those areas of the paper covered by the objects remained white; the rest blackened after exposure to the light.
Davy and Wedgwood found no way of arresting the chemical action at this stage, however, and their images lasted only a short time before darkening entirely. Photography’s basic principles, processes, and materials were discovered virtually simultaneously by a diverse group of individuals of different nationalities, working for the most part entirely independently of one another. The results of their experiments coalesced in the first half of the 19th cent., creating a tool for communication that was to become as powerful and significant as the printing press. Four men figure principally in the establishment of the rudiments of photographic science.
The French physicist, Joseph Nicéphore Niepce, made the first negative on paper) in 1816 and the first known photograph on metal; he called it a heliograph in 1826. By the latter date, he had directed his investigations away from paper surfaces and negatives having invented, in the meantime, what is now called the photogravure process of mechanical reproduction and toward sensitized metallic surfaces.
In 1827 Niepce had also begun his association with Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, a French painter who had been experimenting along parallel lines. A partnership was formed and they collaborated until Niepce’s death in 1833, after which Daguerre continued their work for the next six years. In 1839 he announced the invention of a method for making a direct positive image on a silver plate—the daguerreotype.
Daguerre’s announcement was a source of dismay to the English scientist William Henry Fox Talbot, who had been experimenting independently along related lines for years. Talbot had evolved a method for making a paper negative from which an infinite number of paper positives could be created. He had also worked out an effective although imperfect technique for permanently “fixing” his images. Concerned that he might lose the rights to his own invention, the calotype process, Talbot wrote to the French Academy of Sciences, asserting the priority of his own invention. He then lost no time in presenting his researches to England’s Royal Society, of which he was a distinguished member.
All three pioneers, Niepce, Daguerre, and Talbot, along with Sir John Herschel— who in 1819 discovered the suitability of hyposulfite of soda, or “hypo,” as a fixing agent for sensitized paper images and who is generally credited with giving the new medium its name—deserve to share the title Inventor of Photography. Each made a vital and unique contribution to the invention of the photographic process. The process developed by Daguerre and Niepce was, in a grand gesture, purchased from them by the French government and given, free of patent restrictions, to the world. Talbot patented his own process and then published a description of it, entitled The Pencil of Nature 1844 –46. This book, containing 24 original prints, was the first-ever illustrated with photographs.
Daguerreotype spread rapidly, except in England, where Daguerre had secretly patented his process before selling it to the French government. The legal problems attending the pursuit of photography as a professional account in part for the widespread influence of amateurs e.g., Nadar, the French pioneer photographer on the early development of the medium. The popularity of the daguerreotype is attributable to two principal factors. The first of these was the Victorian passion for novelty and for the accumulation of material objects, which found its perfect paradigm in these silvery, exquisitely detailed miniatures. The second was the greatly increasing demand from a rising middle class for qualitatively good but— compared to a painter’s fee—inexpensive family portraits. The cheaper tintype eventually made such likenesses available to all.
The calotype’s paper negative made possible the reproduction of photographic images. The unavoidably coarse paper base for the negative, however, eliminated the delicate detail that made the daguerreotype so appealing. This lack of precision was understood and used to advantage by the Scottish painter David Octavius Hill and his assistant, Robert Adamson. From 1843 to 1848 they made an extensive series of calotype portraits of Scottish clergymen, intended to serve only as studies for a group portrait in oils, that stands today among the major bodies of work in the medium. Hill and Adamson composed their portraits in broad planes, juxtaposing bold masses of light and dark, creating works that are monumental in feeling despite their small size.
The Collodion Process
The dilemma of detail versus reproducibility was resolved in 1851 by an Englishman, Frederick Scott Archer, who introduced the collodion process. This method, also known as the “wet plate” technique, involved coating a glass plate with silver iodide in suspension, exposing it while still wet, and developing it immediately. Once fixed and dried, the glass plate was covered with a thin, flexible film containing the negative image, the definition and detail of which approached that of the daguerreotype. As this process merged the advantages of both its predecessors, it was universally adopted within a very short time.
The Impact of Early Photography
With the advent of the collodion process, came mass production and dissemination of photographic prints. The inception of these visual documents of personal and public history engendered vast changes in people’s perception of history, of time, and of themselves. The concept of privacy was greatly altered as cameras were used to record most areas of human life. The ubiquitous presence of photographic machinery eventually changed humankind’s sense of what was suitable for observation. The photograph was considered incontestable proof of an event, experience, or state of being. To fulfil the mounting and incessant demand for more images, photographers spread out to every corner of the world, recording all the natural and manufactured phenomena they could find. These were in three main forms: the family album, which contained cabinet portraits and scrapbooks containing large prints of views from various parts of the world; and boxes of stereoscope cards, which in combination with the popular stereo viewer-created an effective illusion of three-dimensionality.
A number of photographers, including Timothy O’Sullivan, J. K. Hillers, and W. H. Jackson accompanied exploratory expeditions to the new frontiers in the American West, while John Thomson returned from China and Maxime Du Camp from Egypt with records of vistas and peoples never before seen by Western eyes. Roger Fenton, who photographed the Crimean conflict, and Mathew Brady’s photographic corps, who documented the American Civil War, provided graphic evidence of the hellishness of combat.
More Developments in photography
E. J. Marey, the painter Thomas Eakins, and Eadweard Muybridge all devised means for making stop-action photographs that demonstrated the gap between what the mind thinks it sees and what the eye actually perceives. Muybridge’s major work, Animal Locomotion 1887, remains a basic source for artists and scientists alike. As accessory lenses were perfected, the camera’s vision extended both telescopically and microscopically; the moon and the microorganism became accessible as photographic images.
The introduction of the halftone process in 1881 made possible the accurate reproduction of photographs in books and newspapers. In combination with new improvements in photographic technology, including dry plates and smaller cameras, which made photographing faster and less cumbersome, the halftone made immediate reportage feasible and paved the way for news photography. George Eastman’s introduction in 1888 of roll film and the simple Kodak box camera provided everyone with the means of making photographs for themselves.
Growth of Photography
When photography was announced to the world in 1839, almost immediately three relationships to the body were established. The most pervasive of these was its use to produce portraits and snapshots that have served as surrogates, even fetishistic tokens, of the human body. As new technologies made photography progressively cheaper throughout the nineteenth century, photographic portraiture, produced in the studios of trained technicians, worked its way down to ever lower classes of society. Photographic portraits made present to broad classes of people images of the bodies of family members who had emigrated, gone off to war, died, or otherwise absented themselves, a privilege enjoyed previously only by the rich. For the last third of the nineteenth century, photographic portraits were also collected and assembled into albums as a way for the public to see the leading political, artistic, and literary figures of the day.
As a different kind of surrogate, photography itself extended the reach of the body’s comprehension of the world. Doing so more insistently than did other forms of mimetic representation, photography seemed to stand in for the direct, bodily experience of the individual, its lens becoming the roving eye of the beholder. Most obviously one sees this in travel and expeditionary photographs of the nineteenth century, for which skilled professionals travelled forth from Western Europe and the eastern USA to record and bring back views of sites as various as India, the American West and the Middle East.
Finally, photography played a role in the nineteenth-century comprehension of the body itself within the emerging sciences. Ethnographers saw in photography the potential to prove theories of racial difference, using photographs showing faces and full frequently unclothed bodies that had been produced both for the tourist trade and specifically for ethnographic study. Early investigators of psychiatry and eugenics considered the medium an objective tool of research, finding evidence in straightforward face shots as well as those that had been manipulated. Studies of physiognomy and the emotions were illustrated with photographs of faces stimulated by electrical charges, while eugenicists sought to arrive visually at average ‘types’ by exposing a single piece of photographic paper to multiple portrait negatives, one on top of the next, so that only the most commonly held traits appeared in the final picture. Within criminology, photographic ‘mug’ shots fixed the identities of convicted criminals, while detailed pictures of ears and other body parts enabled a crude method of tracking suspects, as today fingerprints and DNA are used. Physiology was advanced by studies of motion in the 1870s and 80s, which fixed the positions the body held through the course of a variety of activities. Using light waves beyond the visible spectrum, the invention of the X-ray toward the end of the century let physicians study internal body parts.
At the end of the nineteenth century, photography’s relationship to the body changed with the invention and mass marketing of George Eastman’s Kodak, the first snapshot camera. The ease of use and mobility of this hand-held camera ‘you push the button; we do the rest,’ boasted the ads made it an extension of o one’s own body. Already a ‘point and shoot camera, this early Kodak allowed individuals to take over many of the functions previously performed by professional photographers. Ever-growing masses of people could now make portraits and travel views of their own, with a camera handily carried anywhere. Within the snapshot photographs that emerged, the body itself was recorded in increasingly common and casual ways.
Also beginning at the end of the nineteenth century, mass reproduction of photographs through new printing technologies expanded the audience for documentary and journalistic photography, which depended on its claim to veracity upon the imagined elision between the human eye and the mechanical camera.
Almost from the time of its invention, photography included the production of erotic imagery as a covert subset of its representations of the body. In the nineteenth century as well as the twentieth, such imagery often finessed the fine line between art and pornography. Nineteenth-century photographers of the usually female) nude included among their customers both artists seeking escape
from the expense and possible tedium of working from live models and a more general public seeking this imagery for its potential eroticism. In the first third of the twentieth century, many photographers mostly male) turned to the female nude body as a subject that would align their work in this new medium with the more traditional arts.
In the decades after World War II, photography of the body within the burgeoning mass media largely reinforced gender differences the war had momentarily eased. Fashion magazines returned in their imagery to a level of elegance and fancy dress not seen since the 1920s. Advertising photography, now in its heyday, constructed safely differing roles for men and women through images in which body posture, facial expression, grooming, and dress figured prominently. In the 1960s photography made evident the centrality of the body to radical changes in society. While battlefield corpses had figured prominently in photographs from the American Civil War, government censors successfully ruled out any large-scale photographic representation of battle carnage until the Vietnam War, when widespread disapproval of the war propelled photographers to defy censors. Not only did journalistic pictures record the arnage brought to the body by the war in Southeast Asia and the protest against it in Europe and America, but artistic pictures seemed to reflect symbolically the psychic stress of world events
on otherwise normal bodies. In the 1970s photography and the body intersected in new ways.
No longer considered a transparent record or means of abstraction, as it had been for much of its history, photography was now seen as marking the extent to which the world is mediated, coming to us already as a representation. Using photography this way, artists explored the social and cultural bases of such attributes of the body as gender, race, class, and sexual orientation. Artists used photography to document artistic performances that used the body in a very physical way to redefine the experience. Feminist artists employed photography as a means to record and comment upon transformations to which they submitted their bodies.