by Shirley Stock
The Camera Obscura was the forerunner to the modern day camera, it was used to form images on darkened walls using a pinhole, more of a projector than a form of producing photographs and used as an aid by many artists(Pic.1).
Alhazen (Ibn Al-Haytham), a great authority on optics in the Middle Ages who lived around 1000AD, invented the first pinhole camera, also called the Camera Obscura and was able to explain why the images were upside down.
The principle behind the device is probably the most complicated thing about it. A camera Obscura receives images just like the human eye—through a small opening and upside down. Light from outside enters the hole at an angle, the rays reflected from tops of objects, like trees, coursing downward, and those from the lower plane, say flowers, travelling upward, the rays crossing inside the dark space and forming an inverted image the brain automatically rights the eye’s image; in a regular camera a mirror flips the image (Pic.2).
A scientist called Professor J. Schulze (in 1727) accidentally created the first photosensitive compound when he mixed chalk, nitric acid, and silver in a flask, he noticed darkening on the side of flask exposed to sunlight (Pic.3).
His photographs were produced on a polished pewter plate covered with a petroleum derivative called bitumen of Judea, which he then dissolved in white petroleum. Bitumen hardens with exposure to light. The unhardened material may then be washed away and the metal plate polished, rendering a positive image with light regions of hardened bitumen and dark regions of bare pewter. Niépce then began experimenting with silver compounds based on Professor Schulze’s findings.
Together with Louis Daguerre, Niépce refined the existing silver process. Daguerre made two pivotal contributions to the process. He discovered that exposing the silver to iodine vapour before exposure to light, and then to mercury fumes after the photograph was taken, could form an image which could be fixed by bathing the plate in a salt bath. On January 7, 1839 Daguerre announced that he had invented a process using silver on a copper plate called the daguerreotype, and displayed the first plate (Pic.5).
Boulevard du Temple, Paris, Spring 1838, by Daguerre (includes the earliest reliably dated photograph of a person). The image shows a busy street, but because the exposure time was at least ten minutes the moving traffic cannot be seen. However, two men at lower left, one apparently having his boots polished and the other the bootblack, remained motionless enough to be distinctly visible (Pic.6).
“Photography” is derived from the Greek words: photos (“light”) and graphein (“to draw”). The word was originally atributed to the scientist Sir John F.W. Herschel in 1839 however Johann von Maedler, a Berlin astronomer, had used the word photography first. It is a method of recording images by the action of light, or related radiation, on a sensitive material.
In 1851 Frederick Scott Archer, a London sculptor improved the photographic resolution by using nitrated cotton dissolved in ether and alcohol, developing Wet Plate Collodion (Pic.7) photography which was much cheaper than the daguerreotypes.
In 1861 a colour photography system was developed by Scottish Physicist James Clerk Maxwell when he used red, green and blue filters (Pic.8)
In 1884 George Eastman, of Rochester, New York, developed dry gel on paper, or film, to replace the photographic plate so that a photographer no longer needed to carry boxes of plates and toxic chemicals around. In July 1888 Eastman’s Kodak camera (Pic.9) went on the market with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest”. Now anyone could take a photograph and leave the complex parts of the process to others, and photography became available for the mass-market in 1901 with the introduction of the Kodak Brownie.
By 1924 the first high quality 35mm camera was being produced commercially by Leitz and was known as the Leica (Pic.10). Leica are still producing cameras today. Fuji produced film from 1934 but it was Kodak who developed the first color multilayer film in 1936.
Carl Zeiss helped found Contax, a German based firm, who can probably be attributed with producing the first commercial SLR Camera (Pic.11) and he is closely associated with some of the finest lenses today.
The first digital cameras for the consumer-level market that worked with a home computer via a serial cable were the Apple Quick Take 100 (Pic.12) camera (February 1994), the Kodak DC40 camera (March 1995), the Casio QV-11 (late 1995), and Sony’s Cyber-Shot Digital Still Camera (1996).
However, Kodak entered into an aggressive co-marketing campaign to promote the DC40 and to help introduce the idea of digital photography to the public.
Today camera science is advancing rapidly, the latest camera’s offering vastly improved speeds, resolution and even HD video recording, one can only imagine at what the future holds for the photographer.