Though not initially regarded as a legitimate art form, photography came very quickly into popularity as a way to document people, events, and natural scenes. In the most technical terms, photography is a method of producing images by the use of light or radiation on a sensitive surface. It came into prominence during the mid-nineteenth century. There is no other tool that is more central to the art of photography than the invention and development of the camera.
Al-Haytham, an Arab scholar, is created with inventing the first camera, called the camera obscura. Though unable to record an image, the camera obscura showed how light could project an image on a surface using a pinhole. With the invention of crafted lenses and mirrors, the image could be reflected onto a viewable surface outside of the box itself. Artists could have the image projected onto a canvas and trace or paint a scene with accuracy. With the later additions of film and paper as light sensitive surfaces, the camera obscura eventually became the model for portable cameras which would be able to preserve the projected image indefinitely.
The first recorded image was taken by the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826. He placed an engraving onto a metal plate coated in bitumen, a naturally occurring dark colored asphalt, and exposed the sensitive material to light. With this first success, a succession of experiments and techniques improved Niépce’s method even further. One such innovation, known as the Daguerre process, required the use of silver chloride after the copper plate was coated in iodine and exposed to light. This resulted in a long-lasting image that would not change even if exposed to light.
Because the development of photos was a costly and painstaking process, photography in its early stages was reserved mainly for professionals honing their craft and the extremely wealthy. The realism of photographs made it the ideal art form for capturing the likeness of loved ones and important figures. Photos had another important purpose - that of serving as historical documentation. Photography has captured some of the most significant events and moments in modern history. It has given an accurate of view of humanity and nature in their truest forms.
Artists had varying opinions on photography as a new medium of art. Critics saw photography as too realistic and therefore unable to stimulate the imagination. Painters, in particular, were concerned that the precision of photography would render other forms of visual art obsolete. But it is that same precision of lighting, position, and composition that showed that photographs, like other creative works of art, are purposefully and artificially constructed by the photographer. They are not simply mechanical reproductions of a subject.
Photography, as a field, experiences constant changes as technology becomes more and more advanced. In the late nineteenth century, the invention of small handheld cameras such as the Kodak camera, opened the world of photography to almost anyone. Photos taken with digital cameras can be viewed instantly and manipulated using photo editing software. Becoming a professional, however, does not merely rely on tools and mechanical knowledge, but on the photographer’s creative vision. A photo, like any other work of art, is a reflection of the artist’s own tastes, judgement and style.
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