A Short History of Photography at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery Week 1

80668577Niépce, 1827

So last Wednesday Padraig and I attended the first of six lectures on a Short History of Photography at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery. The first weeks lecture was presented by Fiona Kearney, Director of the Glucksman gallery. Miriam didn’t make the first night, so this post could be titled “Notes for Miriam”!

The first slide that Fiona presented was of the first photograph ever made (or at least the earliest surviving), which was made by French inventor Niépce in 1827. This image was fixed on a metal plate, and showed a scene from a window of a  house. The exposure would have taken many hours, and so the necessity of finding a place to keep the box still for that length of time probably dictated the scene produced as much as anything else.

Niépce collaborated with Louis Daguerre who went on, some 12 years later to patent a process known as the daguerreotype.

Boulevard_du_Temple_by_DaguerreDaguerre – Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 1838

A daguerreotype is essentially a negative image,  exposed directly onto a plate bearing silver halide.  It is a single negative process, and prints cannot be made from the plate. Although the end result is a negative, the mirrored surface appeared as a positive when a dark background was reflected onto it.

Henry Fox Talbot, an English inventor, perfected his own process, and in 1839 invented the negative process. With his process, the calotype, many prints could be made from a single negative. Although the daguerreotype was more popular at the time (possibly because it was a free to use patent, unlike the calotype which was licensed), the fact that Fox Talbot’s calotype was a double negative process meant that it became the precursor to most late 19th and 20th century photographic processes.

Latticed_window_at_lacock_abbey_1835Henry Fox Talbot – Latticed window in Lacock Abbey in 1835

Although the early photographers were essentially expert inventors and chemists, Fiona impressed upon us during her lecture that an artistic eye guided the creation of the image from the begining. The second photograph above, Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 1838, by Daguerre, is a wonderful example of this in my eyes. This is a technically interesting photograph, because the Boulevard appears to be empty, despite the fact that this should have been a busy street, full of life. The only apparent sign of life is the two figures towards the bottom left of the scene – a man standing still to have his shoes shined, and the shoe shiner. What has happened is that the exposure took so long that the only people that stayed still long enough to be recorded were the shoe shiner and his customer. I wonder if Daguerre and this man were in cahoots, as quite apart from the technical aspect, the two figures add enormously to the beauty of the scene.

800px-The_Horse_in_MotionEadweard Muybridge – The Horse In Motion

From the begining, photographers were very influenced by painters, and painting, in turn, was influenced and changed by photography. One of the things that photography did was change the way that we see. Eadweard Muybridge was commissioned by Leland Stanford to scientifically prove whether or not all four hooves left the ground during a gallop (possibly so that Stanford could win a bet!). Muybridge achieved this with his “The Horse In Motion” series of photographs, and in so doing changed the way we see, and the way artists paint.  No longer would paintings such as Epsom Derby by Théodore Géricault appear realistic. Indeed to modern eyes the horses in this painting appear to be flying rather than galloping, with all four hooves off the ground!

epsomderbyThéodore Géricault – Epsom Derby

And so some artists began to paint in such a way that now appears more realistic, since the invention of photography. Below is “Race Horses” by Degas. As you look at the painting, your eye is drawn to the startled horse in the center of the frame, and to modern eyes, this looks “more correct”, again due to photography.

degasraceDegas – Race Horses


570px-Roger_Fenton's_waggonMarcus Sparling seated on Roger Fenton’s photographic van, Crimea, 1855.

Roger Fenton was the first photographer to go to war, commissioned in 1855 to the Crimean War to photograph the troops. Although he had to carry wagon loads of glass plates and chemicals, the photographs that were produced immediately changed the way foreign wars were reported on. Seeing the devastating impact of foreign war in images, rather than reading about them, had enormous impact – the written word could not compete.

784px-Fenton_cannonballs_crimeaRoger Fenton – The Valley of the Shadow of Death

The technology of the time meant that the photographer could not actually photograph the action as it happened, so early war photographs tended to be of scenes and landscapes – cannonballs on a road, dead bodies on the fields. And, long before photoshop, accusations of image manipulation were ripe. Did the photographer move the bodies to increase the impact of the horror of the scene. Were the cannon balls moved onto the road? And if so, was he morally right to do this?

mathew-brady-1863Mathew Brady, 1863


An image that was certainly manipulated, if that’s the right word, was “Fading Away” by Henry Peach Robinson in 1858.

Henry_Peach_Robinson_Fading_Away_1858.sizedHenry Peach Robinson – Fading Away

This photograph was made from five different plates, or negatives.  At the time, this was a shocking image to its audience. It depicts a dying woman being attended to by two nurses or family members, with her husband staring mournfully out a window in the background. It was a shocking image, considered too real, despite the fact that paintings of such a scene were commonplace. It was the apparent realism of the photograph that shocked his audience, who considered it a step too far.

Fiona’s lecture also looked at the impact that photography made on the environment right from the early days. The formation of Yosmite as a National Park came about partly because of the photographs that were taken there. As people travelled there to make photographs of the natural beauty, so it was recognised that tourism was a new factor, and steps were made to preserve such places.

Photography moved away from trying to emulate painting, and the fashion for pictorialism was replaced by a search for “truthfulness” in photography by photographers such as Weston and Ansel Adams. But still the artistic eye led the way, composition improved, and the idea of photography as an art form was fought for and grew stronger.

We can see the path from where photography began gives us a clue to where we are now. The world is aware that images can be and are often manipulated. A photograph is not always truthful. But an artist can use photography to make a statement about the world he lives in now.

viewing_the_ice_floesSean Hillen – Viewing the Ice Floes


5 responses to “A Short History of Photography at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery Week 1

  1. Thanks for the notes! I’m all up to speed for tonight so. 🙂
    Yeah the Sartorialist is pretty great. I have a little obsession with streetstyle blogs. The photography in most of them is nothing special, but a few of them are really beautiful. The Sartorialist is one of the best, photographically anyway.

  2. Thanks for the blog, thats really good background knowledge for the start of photography. I had no idea that the start of Yosemite was due to photos being taken there!

  3. Excelllent article and very Informative. Wonderful website you have going here… Good to see Cork outdoing Dublin again !! 😛

    Rory…we met last night at the Jazz in the Clarion, if you want to get in touch as discussed I am in Cork for next few days and have dug out that TLR for you. Nora will give you my mobile…



  4. D.K.Milgrim-Heath

    A First Ever Photograph Of The Human Being
    By D.K.Milgrim-Heath©2010
    A first ever photograph of the human being-
    In 1838 that I’m definitely seeing-
    The two people image is quite clear-
    So taken of really in Paris of yesteryear.
    Boulevard du Temple being this photo was shot-
    By Louis Daguerre the photography field really owes a lot!
    Several historical mentions being notoriously famous in annals of French history-
    The Boulevard du Temple again is making modern history again really!
    Once known for walking, recreation and giving society expose to the arts-
    This is where Madame’s Tussaud’s mentor had his 2nd exhibition with his ‘waxy starts’!
    Three years before this photograph we’re talking about so much a lot-
    An attempt on France’s King Louis-Philippe by 25 guns with a single trigger was shot.
    This murder on France’s king failed but other people died-
    And those that survived were hurt internally inside.
    Louis Daguerre did change the Boulevard’s image yes he did-
    For the better being the earliest photographer wiz!
    Anything caught in Daguerre’s photo shouldn’t have moved that day-
    As the exposure time of 10 minutes made moving objects disappear that way.
    The customer and shoe shiner figures are caught in the distinction to be-
    Unknowing gave their image as the first people in a photo one sees in historical photography!
    This unknown man and Daguerre changed photography of course for the ages-
    As we see this now famous image splashing around the world on many pages!
    Maybe ‘Mr. Shoe- customer and Mr. Shoe-shiner’s’ ancestor could crop up from somewhere and realize-
    He’s my family member by acknowledging my ancestral neighborhood even small in a photo by size!
    It’s all very exciting for the world since we can actually see-
    The first human beings in an 1800-‘s photo distinctive there quite marvelously!

  5. Pingback: 2010 in review | cork analogue photographers

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