How Did the Work of the Early Pioneers of Photography Change People’s Understanding of, and Relationship with, the World Around Them? You May, If You Wish, Concentrate on One Subject Area – E.G. War Photography,



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How did the work of the early pioneers of photography change people’s understanding of, and relationship with, the world around them? You may, if you wish, concentrate on one subject area – e. g. war photography, documentary photography, travel photography. (Please note that this question requires you to consider early reactions – i. e. nineteenth century material. ) The invention of photography in the nineteenth century exposed the unknown to the general public. Suddenly, parts of the world were becoming more accessible to different classes and generations through this new visual means of communication. Where people had previously elied upon the drawings and descriptions of explorers, they could now view the world for themselves in a first hand, far more accurate manner. I will explore the development of the process, from which the world could now experience detailed pictures of people, places, countries, conflicts, cultures, architecture and other subjects, never before documented in such detail. The first known photographic image was produced by a French man named Joseph Niepce, as told in Megg’s History of Graphic design (1983, p. 143), “[he] began his research seeking an automatic means of transferring drawings onto printing plates… ”

Niepce wanted to find a way of capturing an image permanently. Experimenting with his Camera Obscura and his pewter plates, he was able to create a picture directly from nature. This was a scene looking out over the rear courtyard of his home in 1826 which took all day to expose. (figure. 1). “La cour du domaine du Gras” was the first successful photograph, it took 8 hours of exposure time and because of this the sunlight illuminates either side of the buildings. Megg’s tells us that Niepce continued his research until he was joined by Louis Jacques Daguerre, who had also been researching the subject. They combined ideas until Niepce died, rom which Daguerre took his research further and eventually created ‘Daguerreotype’ in 1839. People had been working on techniques for almost thirty years prior to this but the Daguerreotype was the first successful photographic process. Also, they were one of a kind as the pictures could not be reproduced. This process produced stunning images with great (Figure 1. ) La cour du domaine du Gras (View from the Window at Le Gras), Joseph Nicephore Niepce, 1826. detail, so much so that Nancy Anderson reiterates Walter Benjamin credit to the nineteenth- century German photographer Carl Dauthenday, for stating “some observers of photographs ound the little faces in the images to be so real that they must be looking back at them” (2002, p. 203). In an announcement in Paris’ Literary Gazette (1839,p. 28), the Daguerreotype was described as a revolution in the arts. “We have much pleasure in announcing an important discover made by M. Daguerre, the celebrated painter of the Diorama. This discovery seems like a prodigy. It disconcerts all the theories of science in light and optics and, if born out, promises to make a revolution in the arts of design. ” In addition to this the British inventor, William Henry Fox Talbot developed nother photographic process that he named Calotype. Years previous in 1839 he exhibited his results at the Royal Institution. His calotype was a way of making mass amounts of prints from a single negative, an advantage over the daguerreotype, which could only produce one off images. Megg’s notes Talbot as devising his invention through frustration with his limited drawing ability. He is quoted as having said, “The idea occurred to me… how charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paper” (1899, p. ) It was a tremendous breakthrough as this negative/positive process formed the standard for photography, a process still used to this day. Due to the technique of having to process quickly after exposure, travel photography required a vast amount of equipment during the early stages of photography. This included the camera, which at this stage was large, producing plates at 12″ x 16″, which meant the plates added to the heavy load as well as chemicals etc. It was a difficult and expensive process that meant photography was limited to those who could indulge in it.

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Darkroom tents were often used for processing on location. Photographer Roger Fenton required a van to carry his equipment; his photography van can be seen with Fenton’s assistant Marcus Sparling seated on it in Figure 2. One of his letters from his time in the Crimea (1973, p. 63) explains the effort involved in transporting his equipment “Though my horses will not draw the van I find them exceedingly useful, as the distances are so great that without them much of our time and bodily strength would be wasted in mere locomotion” The extent of the equipment used at that time is also described in an account by an observer egarding an expedition of the Grand Canyon in 1871 (1991, p. 61). “The camera in its strong box was a heavy load to carry up the rocks, but it was nothing to the chemical and plate-holder box, which in turn was a featherweight compared with the imitation hand organ which served for a darkroom” It could be argued that the effort in carrying this equipment on such journeys would be extremely difficult but furthermore what was most frustrating would have been to go such a distance and then arrive home with failed photographs, sometimes even none at all, as described in an expedition of the Grand Canyon. They had met with bad luck, and did not get a single negative. The silver bath had got out of order, and the horse bearing the camera fell off a cliff and landed on top of the camera… with a result that need not be described. ” (1984, p. 179) The use of daguerreotype in war photography had the capability to depict a landscape so precisely; this enabled photographers to record the events of war and present to the public the graphic scenes from conflict, such as dead or mutilated soldiers. The clarity of such scenes can be recalled in this account of the reality of conflict, printed in a book of Daguerre’s (1969, p. 5), “However imperceptible, escapes the eye and the pencil of this new painter; and as three or four minutes are sufficient for execution, a field of battle, with its successive phases, can be drawn with a degree of perfection that could be obtained by no other means. ” It was argued in the Atlantic Monthly by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1863, p. 12) that war should be shown realistically which in his eyes was a very ugly thing. “it is well enough for some Baron Gros or Horace Vernet to please an imperial master with fanciful portraits… Yet war and battles should have truth for their delineator … ome conception of what a repulsive, brutal, sickening, hideous thing it is, this dashing together of two frantic mobs to which we give the name of armies. ” Among the first wars to be captured on camera were the Mexican-American war of 1846- 48, the Crimean War of 1854-56, the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the American Civil War of 1861-65. Photography of such scenes would provide the world with a direct, honest account of nineteenth century war, and a glimpse into its realities. This also served as a way of preserving the event in history. Documentary photographer Mathew Brady, along with a team working under his name served s photographers for the American Civil war and produced images of conflict that illustrate the reality of its graphic nature. This included a photograph entitled “Harvest of Death” (Figure. 3) by Timothy O’Sullivan; showing dead bodies during the American Civil War, on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Brady and his team used Frederick Scott Archer’s Collodion process, an important development in photography, introduced in 1851. Prior to this the Daguerreotype and Calotype were the dominant processes. The collodion process came about after the desire to mix these two rocesses together – the reproducible quality of the Calotype along with the sharpness seen in the quality of Daguerreotype. It was a breakthrough that opened up new possibilities for photography. The medium was now far more widely accessible thanks to this new process. Unlike previous processes, the Collodion was never patented, meaning more people were able to use it. It was more sensitive to light (Figure 2. ) Photographic van – Roger Fenton (1855) (Figure 3. ) The Harvest of Death, Timothy O’Sullivan, 1863. than the Calotype, meaning the exposure time required was a lot lower than before – even as ittle as two or three seconds. It was also cheaper; the price of a paper print was a fraction of the price of a daguerreotype print. It was a difficult, labour intensive process and is described in a poem by Lewis Carroll (1973,p. 101) entitled ‘Hiawatha’s Photography’ “First a piece of glass he coated With Collodion, and plunged it In a bath of Lunar Caustic Carefully dissolved in water; There he left it certain minutes. Secondly my Hiawatha Made with cunning hand a mixture Of the acid Pyro-gallic, And the Glacial Acetic, And of alcohol and water: This developed all the picture. Finally he fixed each picture

With a saturate solution Of a certain salt of Soda” Though some believed it was only right to document the war by showing the brutality of it through their work, Roger Fenton, one of the first to photograph war, took a different approach. Fenton would refrain from capturing graphic images of the dead or injured soldiers. His subject would have been limited due to the exposure requirements at the time. This meant he could only record still objects or posed pictures, including landscapes such as the scene shown in his influential image “Valley of the Shadow of Death” (Figure 4), which displays a road overed in cannonballs. It’s possible that him avoiding the violence of conflict via his images, could have been a propaganda tool – a strategy used to avoid turning the public against the war. On the other hand it was more of a profitable interest to show the well being of soldiers instead of scenes of devastation. Fenton’s work was to be presented in a gallery, so it would have been in his best interest to display images that were more likely to sell, such as landscapes i. e his ‘Valley Of the Shadow of Death’, rather than a photo of a dead body or maimed soldier.

It was important that photography was constantly evolving. The discovery of new processes would mean that photography could desist from being an expensive luxury, and through its development brought about a turning point for portraiture. Thanks to the Collodion process there was a boom generated in the ever-present desire for portraiture. It was now available to practically all members of society rather than limited to being a privilege solely for the wealthy. Furthermore, the Carte-de-Visite of 1859 provided a market for an inexpensive photograph, available to the general public.

Carte-de-Visites were popular during the American Civil War as it aided the exchange of pictures between soldiers and family. As well as personal items, the medium was popular among celebrities as people would not just purchase photos of themselves or their family, but photographs of public figures such as Abraham Lincoln (shown in Figure 5), which served as an item of personal collection or to trade with friends and family. Improvements that proceeded the Carte-de-Visite included the progression of the box camera. In 1888 the first commercially successful box camera using roll film was introduced by Kodak, t was called The Kodak Brownie. It was the first consumer camera, designed to increase the popularity of photography by giving the general public affordable means to involve himself or herself in the art of taking, or purchasing, pictures. Along with the development of instantaneous photography came about one of the earliest forms of videography – Eadweard Muybridge’s ‘The Horse In Motion’ (Figure 6) is a series of photographs depicting a horse galloping, answering the popularly debated question of whether all four of a horse’s hooves are off the ground at the same time during a gallop.

Photography served as a way of communicating something that the naked eye itself could not decipher. Life magazine (online) note that his technique to achieve the answer to this question was by rigging a racetrack with a dozen strings that triggered 12 cameras. His method changed the world from there on and set off the revolution in motion photography that would later become movies. Rebecca Solnit (2003, p. 7) describes Muybridge in one of her works as “the man who split the second, as dramatic and far-reaching an action as the splitting of the atom”.

To conclude, the pioneers of photography enabled the world to understand, with a much more advanced degree of visual accuracy, what was going on around them. Though this was firstly an informative documentation of life, it became a way of delivering sights the general public may never ordinarily get the chance to see. The developments of the medium soon meant that all of society could get involved in photography, enabling them to interact more closely with their immediate world via affordable ways of capturing an accurate and precise moment in time.

It also developed a market in which portraiture of themselves and their family could be purchased – luxuries that had only previously been available to the rich and wealthy. The development of photography throughout the nineteenth century enabled the art to be far more widely accessible and allowed the world to be documented accurately in a way the world had never seen before, sparking the basic processes, demands and principles that we see in photography today. (Figure 4. ) Valley of the Shadow of Death, Roger Fenton, 1855. (Figure 5) Carte de Visite of Abraham Lincoln, 1861 (Figure 6) Muybridge’s The Horse in Motion.

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