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Humanities LibreTexts

11.10: Photography (Since 1826)

  • Page ID
    31943
  • Photography captures an image in a moment of time, recording the light on a light-sensitive material. The light-sensitive material can be a photographic film or a digital image sensor. The early 19th century brought about many scientific discoveries, one being photography, changing how we look at the world. It appeared almost overnight, and enterprises like National Geographic brought us photographs from around the world we had never seen before, showing us how other cultures, natural resources, and animals coexisted on the planet. Other than paintings or drawings, the visual world in the 19th century was limited. Now anyone could look at photographs and explore the rest of the world from a library, magazine, or book.

    How many times have we hear the expression, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’

    The first surviving photograph was made by a French chemist, Nicephore Niepce (1765-1833). The hazy photograph was a polished pewter plate that he exposed to light for eight hours. Louis Daguerre (1787-1851), a French Romantic artist, invented the daguerreotype process, a new realistic method of photographing images. Daguerre exposed to light on a highly polished silver-plated sheet of copper producing images, as seen in the Boulevard du Temple (11.54). The boulevard is a major thoroughfare in Paris, and Daguerre staged his camera in 1838 to capture the street and pedestrians walking on the sidewalk. The earliest known daguerreotype was exposed for ten minutes, showing only non-moving objects. Daguerre first practiced his technique with marble statues, the light reflected off the white marble, and the statues did not move during the process.

    11.54 Boulevard du Temple

    Photographs were an instant success, and soon photographers like Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) used photographs to study motion. He arrived by ship in San Francisco in 1867 and became famous for his pictures of Yosemite National Park and the landscape around San Francisco Bay. When the San Francisco Mint was under construction in 1870, Muybridge took a photograph every day and made a time-lapse set of images to document the rise of the new mint. And then he met the former governor of California, Leland Stanford.

    Stanford, the businessman, tycoon, and racehorse owner, hired Muybridge to study his horses to solve the puzzle - do all four feet of a horse came off the ground at one time or while running or is one foot always touching the ground. Experimenting with several cameras set up on a fence, Muybridge had a horse run by to capture the images, adding lines on the ground and backdrop to help guide the photographer. Muybridge proved a horse moving with a running gait did lift all four feet off the ground in a full gallop, as documented in The Horse in Motion (11.55).

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    11.55 The Horse in Motion