Photography. An art form invented in 1830s, becoming publicly recognised ten years later. Today, photography is the largest growing hobby in the world with the hardware alone creating a multi-billion dollar industry. Not everyone knows what Camera Obscura or even Shutter Speed is, nor have many heard of Henri Cartier-Bresson or even Annie Leibovitz.
Today we take a step back and take a look at how this fascinating technique was created and developed, because proudly knowing the past is the primary way to create a great future.
Before photography was created, people already knew the principles of how it eventually got to work. They could process the image on the wall or piece of paper, however no printing was possible at the time as preserving light turned out to be a lot harder task than projecting it. The instrument that people used for processing pictures was called the Camera Obscura (which is Latin for the Dark Room) and it was around for a few centuries before photography came along.
It is believed that Camera Obscura was invented around 13-14th centuries, however there is a manuscript by an Arabian scholar Hassan ibn Hassan dated 10th century that describes the principles on which camera obscura works and on which analogue photography is based today.
Camera Obscura is essentially a dark, closed space in the shape of a box with a hole on one side of it. The hole has to be small enough in proportion to the box to make the camera obscura work properly. The way it works is that due, to optical laws, the light coming through a tiny hole transforms and creates an image on the surface that it meets, i.e. the wall of the box. The image was mirrored and upside down, however, so basically everything that makes today’s analogue camera’s principles different to camera obscura ones are the mirrors and the film which is used to capture and preserve the image created by the light.
Photography, the way it was developing, was always believed to be the killer of the fine art. However, it is believed that the photo principles were widely used by Renaissance artists like Leonardo, Michelangelo and others. In the mid 16th century, Giovanni Battista della Portacentury, an Italian scholar, wrote an essay on how to use camera obscura in aid of making the drawing process easier. He projected the image of people outside the camera obscura on the canvas inside of it (camera obscura was a rather big room in this case) and then drew over the image or tried to copy it.
The method is quite similar to that which was used in the Retroscope drawing in the animation industry in early twentieth century. The process of using camera obscura looked very strange and frightening for the people at those times and the Giovanni Battista had to drop the idea after he was arrested and prosecuted on a charge of sorcery.
This is a picture of camera obscura in action the way it was used back then.