History of Photography


History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary



Chapter 6



NADAR (collection)
THOMAS EAKIN (collection)








...photography, from being merely another way of procuring or making images of things already seen by our eyes, has become a means of ocular awareness of things that our eyes can never see directly...  it has effected a very complete revolution in the ways we use our eyes and... in the kinds of things our minds permit our eyes to tell us.

William M. Ivins, Jr., 1953



IN THE FIFTY YEARS that followed the announcement that pictures could be made with sunlight, processes and ideas were continuously tried and discarded as people involved with the medium sought answers to the technical problems created by the expanding aesthetic, commercial, and scientific demands upon photography. As these needs un-folded it became apparent that professional photographers were looking for more sensitive film and for stable, standardized products to document an ever-widening range of subjects; that the scientific community required refined and specialized equipment; that artistic photographers were seeking materials of long tonal range and permanence. Still another constituency was added to those who made and used camera images when at the end of the 1880s simplified apparatus and processing methods—"push button" photography—turned potentially everyone into a photographer. During the same period, the persistent struggle to produce images in color in the camera was won, even though the solution turned out to be one of limited application. This explosion of products, techniques, and processes (detailed in A Short Technical History, Part II) produced significant changes in the kinds of images made and how they were used, and as a consequence established new audiences for photographic images. In turn, the increasing numbers of images provided information that altered public attitudes and perceptions of reality.

By 1890, photographic technology had taken wing. Wet collodion, in use for some 25 years before going the way of the daguerreotype, was supplanted by the dry plate—a silver-bromide gelatin emulsion available first on glass plates and later on lightweight, flexible celluloid film. This material was not only easier to use; it was more sensitive to light, thus shortening exposure time, and eventually it became orthochromatic—corrected for all colors of the spectrum except red (and blue, to which it was oversensitive). Camera design also flourished; during the final decades of the 19th century, photographers could choose from among a variety of instruments designed for different purposes. For professional work in the field there were view cameras in several sizes with extension bellows, swings, and tilts; for the serious amateur, hand-held reflex cameras. Stercographic and panoramic apparatus was available, as were tiny detective cameras—so named because they might be concealed in clothing or in other artifacts to make picture-taking unobtrusive. Concurrently, manufacturers began to produce faster lenses, shutters, exposure meters, flash equipment—all of which gave the photographer greater control over capturing on the negative what was occurring in actuality. At the same time, printing papers that satisfied both artistic and commercial purposes appeared on the market.

Standardization—the rational production of photo-graphic materials and processes—accelerated toward the end of the 19th century for a number of reasons. Basic among them was the continuing trend in Western capitalist countries toward the regularization of all manufactured goods and many services, with photography considered an intrinsic part of industrial capacity. Another stimulus was the growth of the chemical and dye industries, especially in Germany after its unification in 1871, which led to competition (in other countries, too) in the manufacture of new sensitizing materials and more refined apparatus. Possibly the most important stimulus was the realization that photography had shown itself to be more than a craft that reproduced what the eye could see, that its potential as a tool for revealing scientific, sociological, and physical phenomena never actually seen had transformed it into the most significant pictorial means in modern industrial society. And as printing technology progressed to make possible the direct transcription of photographic illustration in news and informational media (see Chapter 10), the pressure for more accurate equipment and flexible materials increased.

Photography from the Air

The expanded roles that the medium would presently assume had been hinted at soon after mid-century as photographers attempted to depict the physical universe from unusual vantage points or under abnormal conditions using the unwieldy collodion wet plate. For example, in connection with the growing interest in "flying machines," efforts were begun in the late 1850s to photograph from the sky, to reaffirm scientifically the vision of artists who from the Renaissance on had imagined a "bird's-eye view" of the earth. In 1858, Nadar became the first to succeed- producing a somewhat murky image of Paris while stripped to the skin (for lightness) and concealed behind a dark curtain the basket of a captive balloon manned by the famous Goddard brothers. He spent the next two years promoting his own lighter-than-air creation (see Profile), but his greatest success in aerial photography stemmed from the views of the Arc de Triomphe (pi. no. 287) taken in 1868 with a multilens camera from the basket of another balloon, the Hippodrome.

Aside from the romance associated with the balloon-called the "ultimate engine of democracy" by the French— the practical nature of balloon transport was demonstrated when it turned out to be one of the two ways that mail could be delivered to and from the besieged city of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). The other way, by carrier pigeon, involved photography in that the written messages were reduced microphotographically and later enlarged for reading in a projection enlarger, foreshadowing the V-mail of the second World War.

At about the same time as Nadar's experiments— 1860—the Boston photographer James Wallace Black, a partner in the astrophotographic research conducted at Harvard by John Adams Whipple (see Chapter 1), ascended 1,200 feet in a balloon tethered over the Boston Common. Black used a Voigtlander camera and a shutter of his own contrivance to make the first aerial photographs in America, six of which are extant. Although the extraordinary feat of viewing the city "as the eagle and the wild goose saw it" (pi. no. 288) was praised by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the photographer himself suggested that reconnaissance photography by balloon be tried during the Civil War, no action was taken. Despite attempts by several other photographers to make topographical views from the air, at times with balloon and kite cameras, the airborne camera seems not to have evoked further interest until the 20th century.

287. NADAR (GASPARD FELIX TOURNACHON). The Arc de Triomphe and the Grand Boulevards, Paris, from a Balloon, 1868.
Modem gelatin silver print from the original negative. Caisse Nationale des Monuments Historiques et des Sites, Paris.

NADAR (see collection)

288. JAMES WALLACE BLACK. Boston from the Air, 1860.
Albumen print. Boston Public Library, Boston.

Photography by Artificial Light

Another group of experiments undertaken to extend the scope of the medium soon after its invention involved artificial illumination. Electric batteries made it possible for Talbot in 1851 to produce a legible image of a swiftly revolving piece of newsprint (see below) and also provided artificial light for Nadar's experiments in this realm. Using Bunsen batteries and reflectors, Nadar first made portraits and then, in 1861, took the complicated apparatus below the streets to photograph in the sewers and catacombs (ancient burial grounds) of Paris. Some of the exposures took as long as 18 minutes, necessitating the substitution of manikins for humans (pi. no. 289), but despite having to cart lights, reflectors, rolls of wire, and camera and collodion equipment through narrow and humid corridors, Nadar produced about 100 underground scenes. Views of the pipes and drains, the walls of bones, and the tomb markers that constitute the nether regions of the city demonstrated the medium's potential to disclose visual in-formation about a wide range of physical facts.

Commercial portraiture by electric light using Bunsen cells was attempted by Adolphe Ost in Vienna in 1864, but it was not until the end of the following decade that the quality of portraits made by electric light became almost indistinguishable from those made with natural lighting. Because electric batteries initially were both weak and costly, photographers experimented with other chemical agents, including oxyhydrogen flame directed against lime (limelight) and magnesium wire. The latter substance was first put to the test in attempts to picture mine interiors in England in 1864; soon afterward it made possible images taken inside the Great Pyramid, and in 1866 the American Charles Waldack employed it for a series inside Mammoth Cave in Kentucky (pi. no. 290). This substance was also used for indoor portraiture; a group portrait, one of a series of early experiments with magnesium light made by John C. Browne in 1865, includes the editor of the Philadelphia Photographer, the journal most eager to promote new photographic technologies in the United States. In its most common form—flash-powder (used from the 1880s on)— magnesium emitted a cloud of acrid white smoke when ignited, and its intense light created harsh tonal contrasts, but until the flash bulb was invented in Germany in 1925 there was no practical alternative portable lighting agent.

Urban nighttime views presented another intriguing problem for photographers, but during most of the 19th century the gaslight used in street lamps was so weak in its illuminating power that exposures of from three to four hours were required to represent the tonalities of the night scene. In an early experiment by Whipple in 1863, photographs of the Boston Common, where the illumination had been boosted with the aid of electric light, still required exposures about 180 times as long as those taken in sun-light. Following the gradual electrification of cities from the 1880s on, there were more frequent attempts to capture people, carriages, and especially the street lighting itself at night. Works by Paul Martin in London and Alfred Stieglitz in New York in the 1890s are among the numbers of images testifying to the fact that both documentary and pictorialist photographers were fascinated by night scenery, especially the reflections of electric lights on glistening pavements and the tonal contrasts between virgin snow and velvety night sky.

The keen interest shown by Talbot and other photographers in objects and phenomena not ordinarily visible to the human eye (see Chapter 1), in conjunction with the increasing need on the part of the scientific community for precise information about microorganisms, prompted improvements in the design of equipment and methods that enabled scientists to study such matter as the structure of crystals and the forms of cells. At the same time, astrophotography gained ground with the capability of photographing, besides sun and moon, planetary bodies; by 1877 it was possible to contemplate a complete photographic mapping of the fixed star firmament. In the following decade.

Austrian and German photographers succeeded in making clear images of the phases of lightning in the night sky. Toward the end of the century, X-rays—spectral rays that penetrate opaque structures—were discovered by Conrad Wilhclm Roentgen (recipient of a Nobel prize in 1901) at the University of Wurzberg, stimulating their immediate use in camera images for medical diagnoses; within a year more than a thousand publications about X-rays appeared.

289. NADAR (GASPARD FELIX TOURNACHON). Workmen in the Pans Catacombs, 1861.
Albumen print. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

290. CHARLES WALDACK. Beyond the "Bridge of Sighs" from Mammoth Cave Views, 1866.
Albumen print. New-York Historical Society; George T. Bagoe Collection, gift of Mrs. Elihu Spicer.

The Photography of Movement

The most dramatic developments in terms of popular acclaim occurred in the realm of motion study as the camera began to provide artists, scientists, and the lay person with visual evidence about ordinary matters that the unaided eye could not see, such as walking and running. Talbot's success in stopping action with the aid of an electric flash (mentioned earlier) was acclaimed because it pointed the way to photographing "with all the animation of full life . . . the most agile dancer during her rapid movements ... the bird of swiftest flight during its pas-sage,"' but these experiments were not followed up until the 1880s, when Austrian scientist Ernst Mach, working in Prague, made exposures of flying projectiles, sound waves, and air streams using electric flash as a lighting source. Incidentally, although concerned with providing scientific information, Mach also wished these images to be visually pleasing, arguing that aesthetic quality in no way detracts from usefulness. Simultaneously, experimentation in stop action photography also took off in other directions— based on the capacity of the short-focal-length lens used on stereograph cameras to freeze motion in street photography and the other on the ability of successive exposures to record the discrete stages of a movement.

Throughout the 19th century, the need to institute proper training programs for horses and the desire by painters of history pictures for greater accuracy in the depiction of battle scenes had led to efforts by scientists to graphically analyze motion; after its invention, photography became the favored instrument for this endeavor. Beginning in 1872, the analysis of motion by the camera was carried on for some 20 years by Eadweard Muybridge and Thomas Eakins in the United States, by Ericnne Jules Marey in France, and by Ottomar Anschutz in Germany.

Muybridge's prominent role in this adventure was the result of what he called an "exceptionally felicitous alliance" with Leland Stanford, ex-governor of California, president of the Central Pacific Railroad, and owner of the Great Palo Alto Breeding Ranch (who nevertheless eventually disavowed the collaboration). Curiosity among racing enthusiasts about the positions of the legs of a horse running at full gallop prompted Stanford to call upon Muybridge—by 1872 the most renowned cameraman in the American West—to photograph his trotter Occident in motion. Though not remarkably clear, the first images from Muybridge's camera established to Stanford's saris-faction that at one point all four of the animal's hooves left the ground (pi. no. 292)—although not, it should be added, in the position usually shown in painted representations."

This experiment initiated a collaboration, beginning in 1877, between Stanford and Muybridge with the goal of providing visual information about animal movement useful in the training of horses and human athletes (pi. no. 291). This time, the animals were photographed as they moved in front of a calibrated backdrop, tripping specially designed, electrically operated shutters of 12 cameras equipped with Dallmeycr stereographic lenses at one-thousandth of a second. News of the sensational photographs that resulted— photographs that documented what the human eye had never registered—appeared in the California press in 1877, in the prestigious Scientific American the following year, and in journals in London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna soon afterward. Having become an international celebrity, Muybridge lectured in the United States and Europe, where his work was acknowledged by the French physiologist Marey.

Late in 1883, as a result of the withdrawal of Stanford's patronage, Muybridge accepted an invitation to continue his work at the University of Pennsylvania where he boldly extended the cast of characters and the range of movements. His human subjects were drawn from the teaching staff at the university, from professional models for the female nudes (about whose lack of grace he complained!), and from friends in the arts, among them Eakins, whose hand he photographed in various positions (pi. no. 293). In an elaboration of the California experiments, the move-ments generally were performed in front of a backdrop marked with a grid of vertical and horizontal lines and before a batten' of 24 cameras about six inches apart in a line parallel with the grid, while smaller groups of cameras were maneuvered into position to capture frontal, rear, and foreshortened views, as in Woman Emptying a Bucket on a Seated Companion (pi. no. 294). By the time the Pennsylvania project began in 1884, advances in technology enabled Muybridge to use more sensitive dry plates instead of collodion, and to afix a roller shutter in front of each camera lens. These were operated by an electromagnetic system (designed by the photographer) that tripped the shutters in succession and at the same time operated a chronograph or timing device. In a year-and-a-half of work, Muybridge produced some 100,000 images analyzing the movements involved in walking, running, playing ball, pirouetting, curtseying, and laying bricks, among other activities. The university selected 781 plates for Animal Locomotion, an expensive publication, after which Muybridge issued smaller editions entitled Animals in Motion and The Human Figure in Motion.

Eakins, the American painter whose long-standing interest in the accurate graphic representation of movement had prompted him to correspond with Muybridge and to purchase a set of studies of the horse in motion, applied the knowledge he gained to the depiction of the horse's legs in his first Philadelphia commission—the oil painting, The Fairman Rogers' Four in Hand (pi. no. 295), in which ironically the carriage wheels arc blurred as if moving while the horses' hooves are frozen in one phase of their movement. In his own studies of motion, Eakins, who started to make photographs as soon as dry plates became available (pi. no. 297), preferred to work with apparatus that registered the successive phases of action on one plate, as can be seen in History of a Jump (pi no. 298), a frequently reproduced work.

291. EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE. Studies of Foreshortening; Mahomet Running, 1879.
Modern print from a wet-plate glass collodion negative. Stanford University Art Museum, Stanford, Cal.

(see collection)

(b Kingston-on-Thames, 9 April 1830; d Kingston-on-Thames, 8 May 1904).

English photographer, active in the USA. He was the first to analyse motion successfully by using a sequence of photographs and resynthesizing them to produce moving pictures on a screen. His work has been described as the inspiration behind the invention of the motion picture.

292. UNKNOWN. Cover of "Scientific American" with Muybridge's Series of Horses, October 19, 1878.
Engraving. New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

293. EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE. Eakins's Hand, from Animal Locomotion, 1887.
Collotype. Museum of the Philadelphia Civic Center.

294. EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE. Plate 408 from Animal Locomotion,
Woman pouring a bucket of water over another woman, 1887.
Collotype. Photograph Collection, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tildcn Foundations.

294. EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE. Plate 408 from Animal Locomotion, 1887.
Collotype. Photograph Collection, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tildcn Foundations.

294. EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE. Plate 408 from Animal Locomotion, 1887.
Collotype. Photograph Collection, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tildcn Foundations.

294. EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE. Plate 408 from Animal Locomotion, 1887.
Collotype. Photograph Collection, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tildcn Foundations.

295. THOMAS EAKINS. A May Morning in the Park , 1879.
Oil on canvas. Philadelphia Museum of Art

296. EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE. Zodpraxiscope, c. 1870.
Eadweard Muybridge Collection, Kingston Upon

297. THOMAS EAKINS. Amelia Van Buren with a Cat, c. 1891.
Platinum print. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

298. THOMAS EAKINS. History of a Jump, 1884-85.
Gelatin silver print. Philadelphia Museum of Art; gift of George Bregler.

Thomas Eakins 
(see collection)

Marey's contribution to the photographic documentation of movement was made in conjunction with his primary vocation of physiology, for which he initially had devised graphic methods of recording skeletal and muscle movements. After reading about Muybridge's experiments in La Nature in 1878 (and later through personal contact with him), Marey turned to the camera as a more accurate tool for such documentation. Because he was more interested in schematic diagrams of muscle movements than in random, if timed, depictions of moving figures, he adapted for his own use the fusil photographique (photographic gun)—a camera inspired by the rotating bullet cylinder of a revolver—which Eakins also used. Originally, Marey produced a series of separate images with this apparatus but soon realized that more precise information could be gained if the sequential movements appeared on the same plate. For these timed images—called chronophotographs (pi. no. 299)—Marey employed a rotating slit shutter and experimented with a variety of black and white garments on models who moved against similarly colored backdrops; eventually he settled on a figure clothed entirely in black with bright metal bands attached to the sides of the arms and legs, photographed against a black background. This yielded a "working geometric drawing"—a linear graph of 60 skeletal movements per second. As was true of other kinds of instantaneous studies, these images were to have a telling effect on concepts and styles in art as well as on the scientific understanding of movement.

Similar experiments in arresting motion were made by Anschiitz, who had studied photography in Berlin, in Munich with Franz Hanfstaengl, and in Vienna before returning to his native Prussia. Building on a series of stills of horses in morion that he had made with a shutter mounted in front of the plate, Anschiitz embarked on a project to produce instantaneous photographs of animals in the Breslau Zoo. Widely publicized, the most famous among these images are 120 exposures of the activities of a family of storks (pi. no. 300). By 1886 Anschiitz had adapted Muybridge's system of using multiple cameras to the very small instruments with which he worked, and with the aid of the Prussian ministries of war and education he continued to photograph both animal movements and army maneuvers, using a specially designed "Anschiitz" lens manufactured by the Goerz Company.

Three of the photographers involved in stop-motion experimentation envisaged the next logical step—the re-constitution of the appearance of movement by viewing the separate analytical images in rapid sequence. For this purpose Marey and Muybridge turned to a range of so-called philosophical toys, among them the Phenakistoscope (or zoetrope) and the Praxinoscope, both of which involved rotating cylinders or disks with a sequence of images on one moving element viewed through either counter-rotating or stationary slots on the other. This reconstitution of motion, suggested first by Sir John Herschel in 1867 and later by Marey in 1873, struck Stanford as a means to test the correctness of the photographic evidence seen in the stills; therefore Muybridge worked out the Zoopraxiscope (pi. no. 206), a device consisting of a glass disk on which images were arranged equidistantly in consecutive order, with a slotted counter-rotating viewer; its function, as stated by its designer, was "for synthetically demonstrating movements analytically photographed from life." These first "motion pictures" were seen by the Stanford family in Palo Alto in 1879, and two years later during Muybridge's trip abroad they were projected for audiences of influential European artists and intellectuals. Anschutz's endeavor in 1887 to reconstruct movement employing an Electro-Tachyscope, a device in which enlarged diapositives (slides), illuminated by a spark, revolved in sequence on a disk, was limited in effect because the small-format images were not projected but had to be viewed directly.

299. ETIENNE JULES MAREY. Falling Cat Sequence, c. 1880s. Gelatin silver prints.
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


Flying pelican captured by Marey around 1882. He found a way to record several phases of movements in one photo.

 ETIENNE JULES MAREY. Chronophtographie.

300. OTTOMAR ANSCHUTZ. Series of Storks in Flight, 1884.
 Gelatin silver prints. Agfa-Gevaert Foto-Historama, Cologne, Germany.

302. MARCEL DUCHAMP. Nude Descending a Staircase #2, 1912.

Science and art became more profoundly intertwined when the camera began to supply evidence of animal movement beyond what even the most naturalistically inclined artist was capable of seeing. Stop-motion photography and the various publications attracted a wide spectrum of artists working in a variety of styles, among them the salon painters Adolphe William Bouguereau and Franz von Lenbach, the realist Edgar Degas, the Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais, the expressionist Auguste Rodin, and the symbolist James Abbott McNeill Whistler. As in the past, many painters used the newly revealed informatio correct inaccurate representation and to make their work appear more naturalistic, as was true of Jean-Lo sonier, a French painter of prestigious historical scenes, some of which he altered to conform to the new knowledge. Other artists became engrossed with the idea of movement and time, integrating various views of the same object seen in several positions as the theme of their paintings and creating images suggestive of the fluidity of situations and events. For example, Degas, an enthusiast who was himself a sensitive photographer, conveyed lively animation by painting on a single canvas the same seated dancer in a variety of positions (pi. no. 301).

301. EDGAR DEGAS. Frieze of Dancers, c. 1883. Oil on canvas.

Time, movement, and change exerted an even greater fascination on the early-20th-century European painters who sought a new language to express the shifting realities of their own era. Photography may have been blamed by a small group of these avant-garde artists for a "disgraceful alteration" in seeing, but, as Aaron Scharf has pointed out. "stop-motion camera imagery, in particular the geometric diagrams of Marey, with their emphasis on pattern and movement, offered Cubist, Vorticist, and Futurist painters a fresh vocabulary." In the most famous of a number of such examples, Nude Descending a Staircase (pi. no. 302), French artist Marcel Duchamp adapted Marey's schema to transform the posed female nude—conventionally an expression of immobility—into a supremely energetic statement that proclaims its modernism while maintaining a tie to hallowed tradition. Of all those seeking to embody the vitality of their time in the painted image, Duchamp most clearly recognized that photography in all its ramifications had subverted the long-standing relationship between the artists and the conventions of painting. Interest in the graphic depiction of movement based on Marey's studies reached a climax among European artists of the Cubist and Futurist movements between 1911 and 1914. but other kinds of stop-motion photographs have continued to artists everywhere up to the present.

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