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

relied 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 Niépce, 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...”

Niépce 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 Niépce continued his research until he was joined by Louis Jacques

Daguerre, who had also been researching the subject. They combined ideas until Niépce died,

from 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 Nicéphore

Niépce, 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

found 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 another

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.8)

It was a tremendous breakthrough as this negative/positive process formed the standard for

photography, a process still used to...
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