Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #30
Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018
THE EVOLUTION OF PHOTOGRAPHY
When and where was photography invented? The standard story you will find in books on photographic history is that a Frenchman named Daguerre first fixed an image on a silver plated metal surface. The negative/positive process that became the standard for so many years is credited to William Henry Fox Talbott, an eccentric Englishman. Those are the standard stories.
Long before photography artists were using the camera obscura (literally dark room), a device which projected an image onto a surface. Someone had observed that in a darkened room with a hole in the wall an upside down image of the world outside was projected onto the wall opposite the hole. Fitting a lens into the hole allowed focusing of the image and made the image sharper. Fixing that image became an obsession of many, but none succeeded. Artists at first just tacked a sheet of paper to the wall and drew the scene. Later, the lens was mounted on the front of a portable wooden box with the glass plate at the other end. The artist would put his paper against the glass and observe and draw the image seen through the paper. At some point it was discovered that a mirror could be mounted in the box at a 45 degree angle to the lens axis and the glass plate moved to the top of the box. This made the image upright, but left to right reversed. This worked great outdoors so long as the artist was in the shade or had an assistant holding an umbrella (literally little shadow). Some brilliant person invented a leather or wood hood that surrounded the glass and blocked off excess light. I’m not sure at what point it occurred to someone to mount the box on a tripod, but the whole apparatus was then nicely portable. Thus, by the time of Leonardo most of the elements of a photographic camera already existed. The camera obscura revolutionized perspective in art and we begin to see paintings like those of Jan Vermeer that look remarkably like photographs. Although there’s no proof, I’d put money on Vermeer’s use of the camera obscura. Before photography, the camera obscura also became a popular attraction. There is a beautifully preserved Victorian one at Hove/Brighton on the Sussex coast. It is a round building with a big lens on top that projects a wonderful panorama of the surrounding. landscape onto a big bowl-shaped screen that you walk around and look down into. If you’re in the area, it is well worth seeing.
Who solved the problem of capturing the projected image chemically rather than artistically? In Russia you will be told that photography is a Russian invention. In Brazil you will hear that it is a Brazilian invention. And in China … And so on. maybe a lot of folks got the idea. I’ve seen pictures of ancient Chinese plates that have images on them looking for all the world like photographs, so maybe photography is much older than we’re taught in class. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone found photographic images in an Egyptian tomb. There’s an old saying: There’s nothing new under the sun.
About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348. Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: http://tonyward.com/bob-shell-family-of-photographers/