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History of Photography

Introduction  History of Photography (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

A World History of Photography (by Naomi Rosenblum)

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991 (by Hans-Michael Koetzle)

Photographers' Dictionary







History of Photography

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Method of recording the image of an object by the action of light, or related radiation, on a sensitive material. The word, derived from the Greek photos (“light”) and graphein (“to draw”), wasfirst used by the scientist Sir John F.W. Herschel in 1839.

The term photography usually refersto the formation of optical images projected by a lens in a camera onto a film or other material carrying a layer of light-sensitive silver salts and the duplication and reproduction of such images by light action (printing); in an extended sense it also includes the formation of images by certain invisible radiations (ultraviolet and infrared rays) and images recorded in other sensitive materials not containing silver by means of chemical or physical processes or both. Related processes include the recording of images by X rays, electron beams, and nuclear radiations (radiography) and the recording and transmission of light images in the form of electromagnetic signals (television and videotape).

This article treats the historical and aesthetic aspects of still photography. For a similar treatment of motion-picture photography, or cinematography, see motion picture.

As a means of visual communication and expression, photography has marked aesthetic capabilities. In order to understand them, the characteristics of the process itself must first be understood. Of these the first is immediacy. Usually, but not necessarily, the image that is recorded is formed by a lens in a camera. Upon exposure to the light forming the image, the sensitive material undergoes changes in its structure; a latent image is formed, which becomes visible by development and permanent by fixing. With modern materials, the processing may take place immediately or may be delayed for weeks or months. But, either way, the elements of the final image are determined at the time of exposure. This characteristic is unique to photography and sets it apart from other ways of picture making. Although the photographer can control the characterof the original image he captured upon film by the way he develops the negative and prints it, he cannot alter it except by manual interference.

A second characteristic of the photograph is that it can contain more than the photographer intended it to. The first daguerreotypes, shown to an astounded public in Paris in thewinter of 1838–39 by the inventor Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, were praised because of the amount of detail recorded by them; looking at one with a magnifying glass, it was said, was like looking at nature with a telescope. The rival inventor of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot, after noting this characteristic, commented:

It frequently happens, moreover—and this is one of the charms of photography—that the operator himself discovers on examination, perhaps long afterwards, that he has depicted many things he had no notion of at the time. Sometimes inscriptions and dates are found upon the buildings, or printed placards most irrelevant, are discovered upon their walls: sometimes a distant dial-plate is seen, and upon it—unconsciously recorded—the hour of the day at which the view was taken.

As technological advances have improved photographic equipment, materials, and techniques, the scope of photography has expanded enormously. High-speed photography has made visible certain aspects of motion never before seen; with material sensitive to invisible radiation, hidden aspects of nature can be revealed; and, by a combination of photographic, electronic, and space technology, even the planets can be observed in new ways. Photography pervades every sphere of activity in modern civilization. Its thousandfold applications have made it indispensable in daily life. Photography disseminates information about humanity and nature, records the visible world, and extends human knowledge into areas the eye cannot penetrate. Next to the printed word the image drawn by light is the most important means of communication, and for this reason photography has been aptly called the mostimportant invention since the printing press.

The seemingly automatic recording of an image by photography has given the process a sense of authenticityshared by no other picture-making technique. The fact that the photograph can show more than the eye can see and thatthe image is not filtered through the brain of a man and put down by the skill of his hand has given it value as evidence. The photograph has become, in the popular mind, so much a substitute for reality and of such apparent accuracy that the adage “The camera does not lie” has become a cliché.

This intrinsic characteristic is of such strength that it has dominated the evaluation of photography's role in the arts.In the past photography was sometimes belittled as a mechanical art because of its dependence on technology. It has also been used over and over again as a foil by art criticsto denounce paintings that rely heavily upon exact representation of subject matter. Indeed, after reviewing the daguerreotype process, the painter and art expert Paul Delaroche, who served on the committee that advised the French government to purchase the rights to the new process, declared: “From today painting is dead.”

In truth, photography is not the automatic process that is implied by the use of a camera. A fully automatic camera canproduce a correctly exposed and sharp negative, but it cannot distinguish between a banal snapshot and a well-composed picture. The ability to make such a distinction rests solely with the person behind the camera. The creative photographer perceives the essential qualities of the subject and interprets it according to his judgment, taste, and involvement. The mechanical photographer merely reproduces what he sees.

Although the camera does limit the photographer to depicting existing objects rather than imaginary or interpretive views, the skilled photographer has at his command a wide variety of controls that can be used to overcome the constraints of literalness and to introduce creativity into the mechanical reproduction process. The image can be modified by different lenses and filters. The type of sensitive material used to record the image is a further control, and the contrast between highlight and shadow can be changed by variations in development. In printing the negative, the photographer has a wide choice in the physical surface of the paper, the tonal contrast, and the image colour.

The most important control is, of course, the photographer's vision. He chooses the vantage point and the exact moment of exposure. Through experience he knows how the camera will record what he sees. He learns to pre-visualize the final print. If he has visual imagination and perception, he can make more than a passive record. He can express universal qualities. He can extend the vision of the viewer.

So facile a medium is photography that it is difficult to grasp its aesthetic capabilities and accomplishments. Of thebillions of photographs that are taken every year, only a relatively small number can be considered art. Few camera users are deliberately concerned with the production of photographs to be judged as art. A far greater number look upon photography as a means of communication. While the aim of the commercial photographer, the photojournalist,and the scientist may not primarily be aesthetic, it is significant and remarkably characteristic of the medium thatoften in their work can be found memorable pictures that reach beyond the particular to the universal. Recognition plays an overwhelming role in photography: recognition by the creative photographer of the picture possibilities presented to him and recognition by the viewer of aesthetic qualities in photographs that he sees.

The pioneers

The forerunner of the camera was the camera obscura, a darkchamber or room with a hole (later a lens) in one wall throughwhich images of objects outside the room were projected on the opposite wall. The principle was probably known to Aristotle more than 2,000 years ago. The Italian scientist andwriter Giambattista della Porta, late in the 16th century, demonstrated and described in detail the use of a camera obscura with a lens. By the 18th century artists commonly used various types of camera obscura to trace accurate images from nature. These devices still depended on the artist's drawing skills, however, and the search for a method to reproduce images completely mechanically continued.

In 1727 the German professor of anatomy Johann Heinrich Schulze proved that the darkening of silver salts, known since the 16th century, and possibly earlier, was caused by light and not heat. He demonstrated the fact by using sunlight to record words on the salts, but he made no attempt to preserve the images permanently. His discovery, in combination with the camera obscura, provided the basic technology necessary for photography. It was not until the early 19th century, however, that photography actually came into being, largely through the artistic aspirations of two Frenchmen, Nicéphore Niepce and Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, and two Englishmen, Thomas Wedgwood and William Henry Fox Talbot.

Contributions of Niepce and Daguerre

Niepce, an amateur inventor living near Chalon-sur-Saône, a city 189 miles southeast of Paris, came to photography through his interest in lithography. In this process drawings were copied by hand onto the lithographic stone. To make the drawings Niepce relied upon his son's artistic skill, but, when his son entered military service, he was left without a draftsman. Not artistically trained, he devised a method by which light drew the pictures he needed. He oiled an engraving to make it transparent, then placed it on a plate coated with a light-sensitive solution and exposed the setup to sunlight. After a few hours the solution under the light areas of the engraving hardened, while that under the dark areas remained soft and could be washed away, leaving a permanent, accurate copy of the engraving. Using a type of asphalt, bitumen of Judea, which changes its solubility in oil of lavender according to its exposure to light, he succeeded from 1822 onward in copying oiled engravings onto lithographic stone, glass, and zinc and from 1826 onto pewter plates. In 1826/27, using a camera obscura fitted witha pewter plate, Niepce produced the first successful photograph from nature, a view of the courtyard of his country estate, Gras, from an upper window of the house. Theexposure time was about eight hours, during which the sun moved from east to west so that it appears to shine on both sides of the building. The photograph was rediscovered in 1952 by the historian Helmut Gernsheim and is now preserved in the Gernsheim Collection at the University of Texas.

Niepce produced his most successful copy of an engraving, aportrait of Cardinal d'Amboise, in 1826. It was correctly exposed in about three hours, and in February 1827 he had the pewter plate etched to form a printing plate and had two prints pulled. The plate and prints are the oldest photomechanical reproductions still in existence. (The plate and one print are in the Science Museum, London; the other print is in the Gernsheim Collection.) Paper prints were the final aim of Niepce's heliographic (i.e., sun-drawn) process, yet all his other attempts, whether made using a camera or engravings, were underexposed and too weak to be etched. Nevertheless, Niepce's discoveries showed the path that Daguerre and others were to follow with more success.

Daguerre was a professional scene painter. Between 1822 and 1839 he was co-proprietor of the Diorama in Paris, an auditorium in which he and his partner Charles-Marie Bouton displayed immense paintings, 451/2 by 711/2 feet (14 by 22 metres) in size, of famous places and historical events. The partners painted the scenes on translucent paper or muslin and by the careful use of changing lighting effects were able to present vividly realistic tableaux. The views provided grand entertainment in the illusionistic style, and the amazing trompe l'oeil effect was purposely heightened by the accompaniment of appropriate music and the positioningof real objects, animals, or people in front of the painted scenery.

Like many other artists, Daguerre made his preliminary sketches by tracing the images produced by a camera obscura. About 1826 he began unsuccessful experiments inrecording the camera image “by the spontaneous action of light.” Learning of Niepce's work, he wrote to him, and on Dec. 14, 1829, the two men formed a partnership for the express purpose of improving Niepce's invention of heliography. From then on Daguerre worked using the improved materialsNiepce had adopted—silvered copper plates and iodine—without achieving any improved results until 1835, two years after the death of his partner. By accident Daguerre discovered that a latent image forms on a plate of iodized silver and that it can be “developed” and made visible by exposure to mercury vapour, which settles on the exposed parts of the image. Exposure times could thus be reduced from eight hours to 30 minutes. The results were notpermanent, however; when the developed picture was exposed to light, the unexposed areas of silver darkened until the image was no longer visible. By 1837, though, Daguerre was able to fix the image permanently by using a solution of table salt to dissolve the unexposed silver iodide.That year he produced a photograph of his studio on a silvered copper plate, a photograph that was remarkable for its fidelity and detail. Contrary to his contract with Niepce, Daguerre now called the improved process after himself: daguerreotype.

In 1839 Daguerre and Niepce's son sold full rights to the daguerreotype and the heliograph to the French government,in return for annuities for life. On August 19 full working details were published. Daguerre wrote a booklet describing the process, An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Various Processes of the Daguerreotype and the Diorama, which at once became a best-seller: 29 editions and translations appeared before the end of 1839.

Contributions of Wedgwood and Talbot

In 1802 Thomas Wedgwood, son of the famous potter Josiah Wedgwood, reported his experiments in recording images onpaper or leather sensitized with silver nitrate. Although he could record silhouettes of objects placed on the paper, he was not able to make them permanent and, to his disappointment, he failed to record a camera image. Nonetheless, the paper published by Sir Humphry Davy in the Journal of the Royal Institution, London, in June 1802, on the experiments of his friend Wedgwood, is the first account of an attempt to produce photographs.

Unaware of the work of Wedgwood and the French pioneers, Talbot, trained as a scientist at Cambridge University, was led to invent a photographic process because of his inability to draw landscapes. On a holiday trip to Italy in 1833, the idea came to him of recording by chemical means the images he observed in his camera obscura. By 1835 he had aworkable technique: he made paper light-sensitive by soaking it alternately in solutions of common salt (sodium chloride) and silver nitrate. Silver chloride was thus produced in the fibres of the paper. On exposure to light the silver chloride became finely divided silver, dark in tone. Theoretically, the resulting negative could be used to make any number of positives simply by putting fresh sensitized paper in contact with the negative and exposing it to light. Talbot's method of fixing the print by washing it in a strong solution of sodium chloride was inadequate, however, and the process was not successful until February 1839, when Herschel suggested fixing the negatives with sodium hyposulphite (now called sodium thiosulfate) and waxing them before printing, which reduced the grain of the paper.

When news of Daguerre's process reached England in January 1839, Talbot rushed publication of his “photogenic drawing” process and subsequently explained his technique in complete detail to the members of the Royal Society—six months before the French government divulged working directions for the daguerreotype. There were many others who had similar techniques and who were to claim priority, but to Talbot and Daguerre are owed the two basic processesthat were to establish photography as the most facile and convincing way to produce pictures.

First criticism

The two pioneer processes were different in several ways. Daguerreotypes were on metal; photogenic drawings were on paper. Each daguerreotype was unique; photogenic drawings could be duplicated. The aesthetic as well as physical character differed markedly. The daguerreotype rendered detail to a degree that was remarkable; the photogenic drawing, because of the fibrous structure of the paper supporting the silver image, gave a broader, somewhat diffused effect.

The first criticism of photography was necessarily based on a comparison with painting or drawing, since no other standards of picture making existed. Photography's remarkable ability to record a seemingly inexhaustible amount of detail was marveled at again and again. The critics regretted that, because of the great length of exposure, moving objects were not recorded or were rendered blurry and indistinct. The inability of the first processes to record colours was disappointing, but since the critics were already conditioned to black-and-white prints and drawings, this was not as serious a drawback as the harshness of the tonal scale. The technique of photography was at once recognized as a shortcut to art. No longer was it necessary to spend years in art school drawing from sculpture and from life, mastering the laws of linear perspective and chiaroscuro. As Daguerre boasted in abroadsheet in 1838, “with this technique, without any knowledge of chemistry or physics, one will be able to make in a few minutes the most detailed views.”

Pre-World War I history

Daguerre's process rapidly spread throughout the world. Before the end of 1839, travelers were bringing back to Paris daguerreotypes of famous monuments in Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Spain; from them engravings were made that were published in two volumes as Excursions daguerriennes between 1841 and 1843. Although his process was published“free to the world” by the French government, Daguerre tookout a patent for it in England; the first licensee was Antoine-François-Jean Claudet. The first daguerreotypes in America were made on Sept. 16, 1839, just four weeks after the announcement of the process. Exposures were at first of excessive length—a daguerreotype of King's Chapel, Boston,in the International Museum of Photography, Rochester, N.Y., bears a label stating that it was made between 4:40 and 5:30 PM on April 19, 1840. At such exposures moving objects could not be recorded, and portraiture was impractical. Even in blazing sunlight and with the face whitened by flour, a person had to sit immobile for several minutes.

Experiments were started in Europe and the United States to improve the optical, chemical, and practical aspects of the daguerreotype process to make it more feasible for portraiture, the most desired application. Using a camera with a mirror substituted for the lens, Alexander Wolcott opened in New York in March 1840, a “Daguerrean Parlor” for tiny portraits. This was the earliest known photography studio anywhere; the first studio in Europe was opened by Richard Beard in a glasshouse on the roof of the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London on March 23, 1841. Unlike the many daguerreotypists who were originally scientists or miniature painters, Beard had been a coal merchant and patent speculator. Having acquired the exclusive British license for the American mirror camera (he later also purchased the exclusive rights to Daguerre's invention in England, Wales, and the colonies), Beard employed the chemist John Frederick Goddard to try to improve and accelerate the exposure process. Among the techniques Goddard studied were two that Wolcott had tried: increasing the light sensitivity of the silver iodide with bromine vapoursand filtering the blindingly bright daylight necessary for exposure through blue glass to ease the portrait sitter's eye strain. By December 1840 Goddard had succeeded well enough to produce tiny portraits ranging in size from one centimetre in diameter to 1.5 by 2.5 inches (four by six centimetres). By the time Beard opened his studio exposure times were said to vary between one and three minutes according to weather and time of day. Daguerreotype portraits were immensely popular, and the studio made considerable profits the first few years, but competition soonappeared and Beard lost his fortune in several lawsuits against infringers of his licenses.

The finest daguerreotypes in Britain were produced by Claudet, who opened a studio on the roof of the Royal Adelaide Gallery in June 1841. He was responsible for numerous improvements in photography, for the discoverythat red light did not affect sensitive plates and could therefore be used safely in the darkroom, and for the practical introduction of stereoscopic daguerreotypes in 1851.

The most important advances in photographic lens and camera design came from József Petzval and Friedrich Voigtländer, both of Vienna. Petzval produced an achromaticportrait lens that was about 20 times faster than the simple meniscus lens the Parisian opticians Charles Chevalier and N.M.P. Lerebours had made for Daguerre's cameras. Voigtländer reduced Daguerre's clumsy wooden box to easily transportable proportions for the traveler. These valuable improvements were introduced by Voigtländer in January 1841. That same month another Viennese, Franz Kratochwila, freely published a chemical acceleration process in which the combined vapours of chlorine and bromine increased the sensitivity of the plate five times.

The improvements that had been made in lenses and sensitizing techniques reduced exposure times to approximately 20 to 40 seconds. Daguerreotyping became a flourishing industry, especially in the United States, which, it was generally conceded, led the world in the production of daguerreotypes. In the late 1840s every city had its “daguerrean artist,” and villages and towns were served by traveling photographers who had fitted up wagons as studios. In New York City alone there were 77 galleries in 1850. Of these, the most celebrated was that of Mathew B. Brady, who began in 1844 to form a “Gallery of Illustrious Americans,” and to that end collected portraits of notables taken by his own and other cameramen. Twelve of the portraits were published by lithography in a folio volume. In Boston a studio operated by Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes that was advertised as “The Artists' Daguerreotype Rooms” produced the finest portraits ever made by the daguerreotype process. The partners avoided the stereotyped lighting and posing formulas of the average daguerreotypist and did not hesitate to portray their sitters unprettified and “as they were.” Lemuel Shaw, a judge of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, stands with crumpled coat and unruly locks of hair under a glare of sunshine; Lola Montez, adventuress, dancer, actress, lolls over the back of achair, a cigarette between her gloved fingers. Cities and towns, as well as their inhabitants, were photographed by American daguerreotypists: the rapid growth of San Francisco was documented month by month, and the first history of the city, published in 1855, was illustrated by engravings made from daguerreotypes.

Development and use of the calotype process

The popularity of the daguerreotype surpassed that of the photogenic drawing, but Talbot continued work to improve his process. On Sept. 21–23, 1840, while experimenting with gallic acid, a chemical he was informed would increase the sensitivity of his prepared paper, Talbot discovered that the acid could be used to develop a latent image. This procedurerevolutionized photography on paper as it had photography on metal in 1835. Whereas previously Talbot had needed a camera exposure of one hour to produce a 6.5- by 8.5-inch negative, he now found that one minute was sufficient. Developing the latent image had put photography on paper on a par with the daguerreotype. Talbot named his improved negative process the calotype, from the Greek meaning “beautiful picture,” and protected his rights by patent.

The first and most aesthetically satisfying use made of this improved process was in the work of David Octavius Hill, a Scottish landscape painter, and his partner, Robert Adamson,an Edinburgh photographer. In 1843 Hill decided to paint a group portrait of the ministers who in that year formed the Free Church of Scotland. There were more than 400 figures tobe painted. Sir David Brewster, who knew of Talbot's process from the inventor himself, suggested to Hill that he make use of this new technique. Hill then enlisted the aid of Adamson, and together they made hundreds of photographs,not only of the members of the church meeting but also of people from all walks of life. Although their sitters were posed outdoors in glaring sunlight and had to endure exposures of upward of a minute, Hill and Adamson managed to retain spontaneity. Hill's vision was dominated by the painting style of the period in lighting and posing, particularly in the placement of the hands. Many of the calotypes are strikingly reminiscent of canvases by Sir Henry Raeburn and other contemporary artists. Indeed, William Etty, a Royal Academician, copied in oils the calotype Hill and Adamson made of him in 1844 and exhibited it as a self-portrait. In addition to their formal portraiture, the partners made a series of photographs of fishermen and their wives at Newhaven, in Edinburgh, and architectural studies.

The potential of the calotype for recording great monuments of architecture was shown by a number of Frenchmen, many of whom were trained as painters. In the 1850s they began tophotograph historical buildings for the government. Working with cameras making photographs as large as 20 by 29 inches, Henri Le Secq, Charles Marville, and Charles Nègre produced remarkable calotypes of the cathedrals of Notre-Dame in Paris, Chartres, and Amiens, as well as other structures that were being restored after centuries of neglect. An establishment was set up in Lille, Fr., by Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Evrard for bulk printing these paper negatives. Among the products of this firm was a superb volume of photographs by the Parisian writer Maxime Du Camp taken during his travels with the writer Gustave Flaubert in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, from 1849 to 1851.

Pre-World War I history

Development and use of the collodion process

Photography was revolutionized in 1851 by the introduction of the collodion process for making glass negatives. This new technique, invented by the English sculptor Frederick Scott Archer, was 20 times faster than all previous methods and was, moreover, free from patent restrictions. The glass plate negatives recorded detail in a way that rivaled the daguerreotype, and from them paper prints could be made. The process had one serious drawback: the photographer had to sensitize his plate almostimmediately before exposure and expose it and process it while the coating was moist. Collodion is a solution of nitrocellulose (guncotton) in alcohol and ether; when the solvents evaporate, a clear plasticlike film is formed. Since itis then impervious to water, the chemicals used for developing the exposed silver halides and removing the unexposed salts cannot penetrate to them. Despite the drawback that the photographer had to have a complete darkroom outfit with him always, the collodion process was almost at once universally adopted. It reigned supreme for more than 30 years and greatly increased the popularity of photography. Some of the most remarkable photographs of all time were produced by this wet-plate process.

At first the positive prints made from the glass plate negatives were produced by Talbot's salt paper method, but from the mid-1850s on they were made on albumen paper, a slow printing-out paper (i.e., paper that produces a visible image on direct exposure, without chemical development) that had been coated with egg white before being sensitized.The egg white gave the paper a glossy surface that improvedthe picture. Albumen paper was introduced in 1850 by Blanquart-Evrard and remained in general use until World War I.

The new collodion process was also used to produce imitation daguerreotypes called positives on glass or ambrotypes. They were simply underexposed or bleached negatives that appeared positive with a dark coating or backing. In posing and lighting, these popular portraits were identical to daguerreotypes; they were of the same standardsizes, and they were enclosed in the same type of case. Theydid not approach the brilliancy of the daguerreotype, however. Tintypes, first known as ferrotypes or melainotypes, were cheap variations of the ambrotype. Instead of glass the collodion emulsion was coated on thin iron sheets enameled black. At first they were presented in cases, surrounded by narrow gilt frames, but by the 1860s this elaborate presentation had been abandoned, and the metal sheets were simply inserted in paper envelopes, each with a cutout window the size of the image. Easy to make, inexpensive to purchase, tintypes remained a kind of folk art through the 19th century. Poses were often informal, if not humorous.


A new style of portrait, introduced in Paris by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri in 1854, was universally popular from 1859 onward. It came to be called the carte de visite because the size of the mounted photograph (four by 21/2 inches) corresponded to that of a calling card. Disdéri used a four-lens camera to produce eight negatives on a single glass plate. Each picture could be separately posed, orseveral exposures could be made at once. The principal advantage of the system was its economy: to make eight portraits the photographer needed to sensitize only a single sheet of glass and make one print, which he then cut up into separate pictures. At first cartes de visite almost invariably showed the subjects standing. Backgrounds, which had usually been plain in the days of the daguerreotype, becameornate: furniture and such architectural fragments as papier-mâché columns and arches were introduced, and heavy-fringed velvet drapes were hung within range of the camera. With the advent of the cabinet-size (61/2 by four inches) picture in 1866, the baroque tendencies of the photographer became yet more audacious, so that in 1871 a photographer wrote: “One good, plain background, disrobed of castles, piazzas, columns, curtains and what not, well worked, will suit every condition of life.” It was at this period that retouching, the use of handwork on the negative, was introduced, as was the practice of painting over the photograph in oil colours.

In contrast to the excessive reliance on accessories and retouching shown by the popular portrait photographers of Europe and America, the work of two Frenchmen and one Englishwoman stands apart. In their portraiture they reacheda level unsurpassed since the daguerreotypes of Southworthand Hawes and the calotypes of Hill and Adamson. These photographers were Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, a Parisian writer, editor, and caricaturist who used the pseudonym of Nadar; Étienne Carjat, likewise a Parisian caricaturist; and Julia Margaret Cameron, wife of an eminent British jurist.

Nadar took up photography in 1853 as a means of making studies of the features of prominent Frenchmen for inclusion in a large caricature lithograph, the “Panthéon Nadar.” He posed his sitters against plain backgrounds and bathed themwith diffused daylight, which brought out every detail of faceand dress. He knew most of them, and the powers of observation he had developed as a caricaturist led him to recognize their salient features, which he recorded directly, without the exaggeration that he put in his drawings. When Nadar's photographs were first exhibited, they won great praise in the Gazette des Beaux Arts, then the leading art magazine in France. Nadar was a colourful man who had a passion for balloons. He combined his interests by taking a series of aerial photographs, which inspired the French artist Honoré Daumier to produce a cartoon bearing the mocking title “Nadar Élevant la Photographie à la Hauteur de l'Art” (“Nadar Raising Photography to the Height of Art”).

Carjat's portraits, more intense perhaps than Nadar's, have the dignity and distinction of those of his contemporary and rival.

Cameron took up photography as a pastime in 1864. Awkward as it was, she used the wet-plate process and began to take portraits of such celebrated Victorians of her acquaintance as Alfred Tennyson, George Frederick Watts, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Darwin, and Sir John F.W. Herschel. Anumber of her portraits were shown at the Paris InternationalExhibition of 1867. Cameron used a lens of the extreme focallength of 30 inches to obtain large close-ups. This lens required such long exposures that the subjects frequently moved. The lack of optical definition plus this accidental blurring was universally criticized, yet the very power of her work won her international praise. This can only be explained by the intensity of her vision. “When I have had these men before my camera,” she wrote about her portraits of great men,

my whole soul has endeavoured to do its duty toward them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner man as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus obtained has almost been the embodiment of a prayer.

Besides these memorable portraits, Cameron produced a large number of allegorical studies, of children and young women in costume, acting out biblical scenes or themes based on the poetry of her hero, Tennyson. In making these pictures—which today seem weak and sentimental—she wasmuch influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters and the photographic work of Oscar G. Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson (see below), leaders in the production of photographs that emulated paintings.

Influence of painting

Consideration of photography as an aesthetic medium was given impetus by the formation of photographic societies, made up of both professionals and amateurs, who had been attracted to the camera by the popularity of the collodion process. In 1853 the Photographic Society, parent of the present Royal Photographic Society, was formed in London, and in the following year the Société Française de Photographie was founded in Paris.

At the first meeting of the Photographic Society the president, Sir Charles Eastlake (who was then also president of the Royal Academy), invited the miniature painter Sir William Newton to read a paper “Upon Photography in an Artistic View” (Journal of the Photographic Society, i, 1853). His argument was that photographs could be useful to the painter so long as they were taken “in accordance [as far as it is possible] with the acknowledged principles of Fine Art.” One way by which the photographer could make his results more like works of art, Newton suggested, was to throw the subject slightly out of focus. He also recommended liberal retouching.

An outcome of the urge to create photographs that would fit a priori concepts of what “art” should be was the practice of combining several negatives to make one print in order to achieve painterly compositions of subjects too complicated to be photographed in a straightforward manner. A famous example was by Oscar G. Rejlander, a Swede who had studied art in Rome and was practicing photography in England. He used 30 negatives to produce a 31- by 16-inch print titled “The Two Ways of Life,” showing, in allegory as obvious as it was sentimental, that the way of the blessed led through good works and the way of the damned through vice. Rejlander, who described the technique in detail in photographic journals, stated that his purpose was to prove to artists the aesthetic possibilities of photography, which they had generally denied. The photograph was shown in the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857 and was purchased by Queen Victoria for Prince Albert.

Rejlander's technique stimulated Henry Peach Robinson, a professional photographer who had been trained as an artist,to produce similar combination prints. He achieved fame with a five-negative print, “Fading Away,” produced in 1858. The subject, a dying girl, was considered by critics as too painful a subject to be represented by photography. Perhaps the implied authenticity of the camera bothered them, for painters had long presented subjects of a far more painful nature.

Robinson became a most articulate member of the Photographic Society, and his teaching was even more influential than his photography. In 1869 appeared the first of many editions and translations of his book, Pictorial Effect in Photography . From an outmoded handbook on painting, Robinson borrowed compositional formulas the useof which, he claimed, would bring artistic success. The importance of balance was stressed, and the opposition of light against dark was made clear. The fault of the book lay not only in the assumption that rules set up for one art form could be applied to another but also in its intellectual and academic approach to art.

Robinson's work is weak and artificial by present standards of taste. Not only did he practice combination printing when it was not technically necessary, but he preferred to work in the studio, against painted backdrops and with props of natural objects, even foliage, mounted on casters. When he did photograph the real world, he took models with him, dressing them up to play the part of country girls.

So long as photographers maintained that the way to art wasby the emulation of painting, critics were reluctant to admit the new medium to an independent aesthetic position. Portraits, when done as sensitively and as directly as those produced by Hill and Adamson, Nadar, and Cameron, won thepraise of art critics. But sentimental genre scenes, posed andarranged for the camera, lacked the sharp objective truth that is a characteristic of photography. Other photographers, not concerned about producing art for exhibition, were making photographs of the world and man's activities with such extraordinary perception and understanding of the medium that often their work surpassed more consciously artistic works. These men took their cameras to battlefields and to faraway places, often at the risk of their lives.

Combat photography

In 1855 Roger Fenton sailed from London to the Crimea to photograph the war. He was sent to provide visual evidence countering the caustic written reports dispatched by William Russell, war correspondent for The Times of London, criticizing military mismanagement and the inadequate, unsanitary living conditions of the soldiers. Fenton had to develop his wet plates in a horse-drawn van that had been converted into a darkroom. It was visible for miles in the barelandscape and a few times attracted enemy fire. Despite the difficulty, during his four-month stay Fenton produced 360 photographs, the first large-scale camera documentation of a war.

When the Civil War broke out in the United States, Mathew Brady, the New York daguerreotypist and portraitist, who had been among the first to adopt the wet-plate process, conceived the bold plan of making a photographic record of the hostilities. When President Lincoln told him the government could not financesuch an undertaking, he invested his own savings in the project, expecting to recover his outlay by selling thousands of prints. Brady and his photographers—notably Alexander Gardner and Timothy H. O'Sullivan, who left his employ in the midst of hostilities—produced an amazing record of the battlefield. At his New York gallery, Brady showed pictures of the dead at Antietam. The New YorkTimes reported on Oct. 20, 1862:

Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them on our dooryards and along the streets, he has done something very like it. . . . It seems somewhat singular that the same sun that looked down on the faces of the slain blistering them, blotting out from the bodies all semblance to humanity, and hastening corruption, should have thus caught their features upon canvas, and given them perpetuity for ever. But it is so.

Long prized for their value as historical documents, the Civil War photographs are now valued for their aesthetic qualitiesas well. Unfortunately for Brady, immediately after the war they were seen as unnecessary reminders of hardship and conflict. Unable to sell the prints as he had planned, Brady died embittered in a charity hospital in New York City. Fenton's Crimean War photographs had similarly lost their audience as soon as the peace treaty was signed. Nevertheless, entrepreneurs hoping to sell prints or commemorative albums continued to finance the photographic documentation of the more important conflictsof the late 19th century. The South African (Boer) War and the Russo-Japanese War were also covered by photographers engaged by newspapers and by three American mass producers of stereographs.

Landscape photography

During the collodion period scores of photographers journeyed to the far corners of the world, producing memorable travel views despite the trying conditions of the wet-plate process. Among the most successful was the Englishman Francis Frith. The most active of several European photographers working in the Middle East in the late 1850s, he took hundreds of fine pictures of monuments along the Nile from Cairo to Abu Simbel, as well as in Syria and Palestine. Samuel Bourne, Felice Beato, John Thomson, and other British amateurs traveled to Asia, bringing back to England lively images of the nature, people, and customs of India, China, and Japan. Other British photographers concentrated on Europe: Charles Clifford recorded the landscape and architecture of Spain, Robert MacPherson thatof Rome, and Thomas Annan of Glasgow and George Washington Wilson of Aberdeen the wildness, castles, and abbeys of Scotland. The Bisson brothers (Louis-Auguste and Auguste-Rosalie), Gustave Le Gray, and Edouard-Denis Baldus depicted the landscape and architecture of France. In the United States Carleton E. Watkins and the English-born Eadweard Muybridge both won recognition for their scenic views of Yosemite, the Columbia River, Alaska, and other wilderness regions of North America.

Landscape photography was usually intended for publication in books or as portfolios of prints to be sold to collectors, but in the United States photographers were oftenimportant members of government surveys and were also commissioned by railroad companies to make publicity pictures of track laying, bridge building, and spectacular scenery through which the new lines ran. Of the photographers of the American frontier, two stand out: Timothy H. O'Sullivan, of Civil War fame, and William Henry Jackson. O'Sullivan's photographs of the Southwest are of great beauty, particularly his views of Indian cliff dwellings in the Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, made in 1873. Jackson, self-trained as a painter in Vermont, crossed the plains as a wagon driver. In 1868 he opened a photographic gallery in Omaha, Neb. The Union Pacific Railroad was under construction, and he received an order to produce 10,000 stereographs. The excellence of his work led F.V. Hayden, a geologist, to hire him to photograph the Yellowstone as part of Hayden's government-financed expedition there in 1871. The photographs Jackson took were influential in the decision by Congress to create Yellowstone National Park. Later, in 1875, he recorded the immensity of the western landscape, using large glass plates.

Stereoscopic photography

Many of the landscape photographers also took stereographs. These double pictures, taken after 1856 with twin-lens cameras, produce a remarkable effect of three dimensions when viewed through a stereoscope. Stereography, first described in 1832 by the English physicist Charles Wheatstone, is uniquely photographic, since no artist could draw two scenes in exact perspective from viewpoints separated only 21/2 inches—the normal distance between human eyes. Wheatstone's mirror stereoscope, however, was not practical for use with photographs, and the invention languished until the Scottish scientist Sir David Brewster designed a simplified viewing instrument, which was exhibited at the 1851 Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace, London. Queen Victoria was entranced by the stereo daguerreotypes she saw there, and with the introduction of the collodion process, which simplified exposure and printing techniques, three-dimensional photography became a popular craze.

In 1854 the London Stereoscopic Company was formed. Theirchief photographer was William England, whose lively street scenes of New York City in rainy weather and views of Niagara Falls taken in 1859 were the wonders of the day. The instantaneous street scenes, which showed pedestrians and vehicles stopped in their tracks, were made possible because the small size of the stereo-camera reduced exposure times to less than half a second. To minimize movement street views were usually taken from a first-floor window with the camera focused directly down the street. (Such views later inspired several Impressionists to paint similar street scenes.) Between 1860 and about 1920 a stereo viewer was as ubiquitous in British and American homes (where a simplified and cheap hand viewer was introduced by Oliver Wendell Holmes [the American physician was a great lover of photography]) as the television set is today. Millions of stereographs were circulated in the years before newspaper reproduction of photographs, and their impact was enormous.

Development of the dry plate

In the 1870s many attempts were made to find a dry substitute for wet collodion so that plates could be prepared well in advance and developed long after exposure. The suggestion casually made in 1871 by Richard Leach Maddox,an English physician, to suspend silver bromide in a gelatin emulsion led, in 1878, to the introduction of factory-produced dry plates coated with gelatin containing silver salts, an event that marked the beginning of the modern era of photography.

Gelatin plates were about 60 times more sensitive than collodion plates. The increased speed freed the camera from the tripod, and a great variety of small hand cameras that allowed photographers to take instantaneous snapshots became available at relatively low cost. Of these, the most popular was the Kodak camera, introduced by George Eastman in 1888. Its simplicity greatly speeded the growth of amateur photography. In place of glass plates, it contained a roll of negative material sufficient for taking 100circular pictures, each roughly 21/2 inches in diameter. After exposing the last negative, the entire camera was sent to one of the Eastman factories (Rochester, N.Y., or Harrow, Middlesex), where the roll was processed and printed. “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest” was Eastman's description of the Kodak system. At first Eastman's so-called “American film” was used in the camera. This film was paperbased, and the gelatin layer containing the image was stripped away after development and fixing and transferred to a transparent support. In 1889 it was replaced by film on a transparent plastic base of nitrocellulose that had been developed by the Reverend Hannibal Goodwin of Newark, N.J., in 1887.

Photography of movement

A few years before the introduction of the dry plate, the world was amazed at the photographs of horses taken by Eadweard Muybridge in California. Using a series of 12 to 24 cameras ranged side by side opposite a reflecting screen, with their shutters released by the breaking of threads as thehorse dashed by, Muybridge secured sets of sequence photographs of successive phases of the walk, the trot, and the gallop. When the pictures were published internationally in the popular and scientific press, they were so different from the traditional hand-drawn representation of a horse's steps that it was difficult to believe that they were accurate. To prove that his photographs were correct, Muybridge threwthem upon a screen one after the other with a lantern-slide projector he had built for the purpose; the result was the world's first motion-picture presentation. This memorable event took place at the San Francisco Art Association in 1880.

Muybridge's early studies were taken with wet plates. With the new gelatin plates, he was able to improve his technique greatly, and in 1884–85, at the invitation of the University of Pennsylvania, he produced 781 sequence photographs of many kinds of animals as well as men and women engaged in a wide variety of activities.

Muybridge's photographic analysis of movement led the French physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey to develop chronophotography. Whereas Muybridge had employed a battery of cameras to record detailed, separate images of successive stages of movement, Marey used only one, recording an entire sequence of movement on a single plate. With Marey's method, the images of various phases of motion sometimes overlapped, but it was easier to see and understand the flow of movement. Marey was also able to record higher speeds at shorter intervals than Muybridge. Both his and Muybridge's work greatly contributed to the field of motion study and to the development of the motion picture.

Naturalistic photography

Contributions of Emerson

In the late 19th century the growing number of amateur photographers used the camera to capture daily occurrencesand important moments in their lives, but the members of the societies and clubs concerned with photography as an art became more and more divorced from matters of ordinary life. Subjects in the so-called art photographs were artificially composed in the studio in imitation of 17th-century Dutch paintings. Photographers strove to master complicated printing methods allowing manual interference. Photographing everyday life was considered mere record-making or documentation. Landscape pictures, the strength of British photographers in past decades, found little favour. When similar beliefs prevailed in French academic painting 35 years previously, the French realist painter Gustave Courbet was prompted to call for a “return to nature.” So now Peter Henry Emerson, physician by profession and an ardent amateur photographer, attacked the artificiality of the photographs generally accepted as outstanding examples of the artistic use of the camera. Emerson's passionate plea for the return to natural subjects was indeed salutary, but of greater importance was his advice that photographers should respect the photographic process and limit their controls to those that were inherent.

In his book Naturalistic Photography (1889) Emerson further developed his theories (some of which he later disclaimed). Although his writings were influential, his photographs of the life of simple country folk presented a farmore convincing argument for his beliefs. Emerson's photographs were far removed from the usual artificial genre studies and close to the graphic work of the French painter J.-F. Millet, which Emerson greatly admired. They were published in limited editions in handsome folio volumes and motivated other amateurs to seek inspiration innature.

The photographs in Emerson's first and finest album, Life andLandscape on the Norfolk Broads (1886), were printed on the newly invented platinotype paper. In this printing paper, salts of iron and platinum replaced those of silver as the light-sensitive material. Platinotypes had a long and delicatetonal scale, and they did not fade, unlike the more common silver prints. Emerson helped to popularize the paper, which remained in use until about 1920, when the rising price of platinum made it impractical.

The Linked Ring and the Photo-Secession

The recognition of photography as an art rather than a mechanical process and its evaluation on its own terms rather than according to the traditional rules governing painting were further advanced by the formation in London in 1892 of the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring. The group, which was founded by the prominent pictorial photographer H.P. Robinson, George Davison, a leader of the Art Nouveau movement, and others dissatisfied with the scientific bias of the London Photographic Society, held annual exhibitions, which they called salons. By 1901 it was their proud boast that “through the Salon the Linked Ring has clearly demonstrated that pictorial photography is able to stand alone and that it has a future entirely apart from that which is purely mechanical.”

Similar groups formed in other countries. One of the most influential was the Photo-Secession, founded in the United States in 1902 by Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz, who had previously organized the Camera Club of New York City and served as editor of the club journal, Camera Notes, was a strong proponent of “straight” photography. He did not believe in retouching or manipulating in any way his negatives or prints. He had, as early as 1892–93, demonstrated the pictorial possibilities of the hand camera with his photographs of New York under all weather conditions.

A few of the Photo-Secession members, including Clarence H. White and Harry C. Rubincam, favoured naturalistic photography like Stieglitz. Many, however, notably EdwardSteichen and Alvin Langdon Coburn, were adherents of the impressionistic soft-focus school and of the newly introduced gum print process. This technique gave the photographer the utmost manual control. He coated paper with watercolour pigment of any desired tint mixed with gum arabic and potassium bichromate. On exposure to light beneath a negative, the pigment became insoluble according to the amount of light received. The print was “developed” simply by bathing it in water. If desired, areas could be eliminated by brushing them with hot water or by drawing on them.

Despite their stylistic differences, the members of the Photo-Secession were united in their disdain for the lack of standards and the general conduct of photographic exhibitions in the United States. They chose the name “secession” to dramatize their rebellion against the status quo, just as avant-garde German and Austrian painters had used the same word to make manifest their independence ofofficialdom. The record of the Photo-Secession is contained in 50 issues of the much praised Camera Work , published by Stieglitz between 1903 and 1917; this quarterly publication contained superb reproductions of photographs but was of uneven quality, partly because of the members' stylistic differences. The photographs were occasionally overly sentimental, artificial, or banal, and indeed, far better work was being produced in New York City at this time by documentary photographers such as Jacob Riis and Lewis W. Hine, whose photographs were not then considered art.

In addition to Camera Work, the Photo-Secession had a gallery, which came to be known as 291 from the street number on Fifth Avenue, New York City, where it was located. There Stieglitz showed not only pictorial photographs but also, from 1906 on, avant-garde modern art, selected at first by Steichen in Paris. At 291 Americans saw, long before the Armory Show of 1913 made them popular, paintings and sculpture by Rodin, Marin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Brancusi, and Matisse. Stieglitz also organized there the first exhibitions in the world of drawings by children (1912) and of African art (1914).

Other important photographers of the period were Paul Strand and Coburn. The last two issues of Camera Work contained photographs by Strand only. They showed an entirely new approach. There were views looking down from unusual angles; there were bowls in quasi-abstract arrangements; there was a group of powerful open-air portraits taken in the streets of the lower East Side of New York City. These portraits had been taken with a 45° prism fitted over the lens, so that the subjects were unaware that they were being photographed. Coburn, one of the first of thePhoto-Secessionists, made a series of photographs in 1912 looking down from tall buildings, which he exhibited as “New York from Its Pinnacles”; they were remarkable for the way inwhich emphasis was placed on form. He pushed this interest in abstraction to the total elimination of recognizable subject matter in his “Vortographs,” some of which were published in Photograms of the Year in 1917.

During the 1920s and '30s, a new, more realistic style of photography gained prominence, a reflection, perhaps, of post-World War I disillusionment. At the close of the war, Steichen, who had been in command of aerial photographyfor the American Expeditionary Forces, abandoned the broad, impressionistic style he had earlier practiced for sharply focused portraits of celebrities, taken for Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines. The painter Charles Sheeler used the camera to record the stark beauty of Pennsylvania barns andthe forms of industrial structures.

In California, Edward Weston, who had been working as a photographer for more than 15 years, turned in 1923 to a more direct and realistic use of the camera, with a certain emphasis upon abstract form that he never allowed to detract from the recognition of subject matter. “The camera should be used for a recording of life,” he wrote in 1924, “for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.” He formulated a working method based on the use of the classic view camera for eight- by 10-inch negatives, a high-quality lens, well stopped down to ensure great depth of field, and the complete avoidance of artificial lighting. He printed the negatives by contact on glossy bromide paper to secure maximum detail. Enlarging and retouching of any kind was inadmissable.

To Stieglitz this revaluation of photographic aesthetics was in fact a strengthening of the beliefs he had held since his student days. He produced some of his most powerful work in the 1920s—especially his photographs of cloud forms thathe called “Equivalents” because they were equivalent to his thoughts and emotions. Ill health forced him to abandon the camera in 1936, but he continued to maintain an art gallery until his death in 1946.

Paul Strand, whose striking close-ups and semiabstract photographs Stieglitz had first exhibited, developed a style equally rigorous and self-disciplined during the same period.He produced powerful landscapes, direct portraits, and minute details of driftwood and plant life. In 1940 a portfolio of superb photographs Strand had taken in Mexico was issued. After Strand settled in France in 1950, he traveled extensively, producing similar publications on France, Italy, the Hebrides, Egypt, and Ghana, each providing insight into the life in small communities. Asked to define his sphere of interest, Strand once replied that he considered himself a photographer of people.

Viewing the negatives of Strand led Ansel Adams in 1930 to make photography his career. He was then studying the piano and photographing for his own satisfaction. Long interested in nature—his first photographs were of the SierraNevada Range and Yosemite National Park—he refined and sharpened his technique. In 1932, with Willard Van Dyke, Edward and Brett Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and Sonya Noskowiak, Adams founded an informal society, Group f.64, so named for the smallest setting of the aperture of the lens that coupled maximum depth of field with maximum sharpness. Adams' great contribution was in what he called “the interpretation of the natural scene.” His photographs “Mount Williamson—Clearing Storm” (1944) and “Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine” (1944) are classics.

A major representative of the postwar realistic style, known as the Neue Sachlichkeit (“New Objectivity”) in Germany, was Albert Renger-Patzsch, a professional photographer whospent most of his life in Essen. Beginning in 1922, he introduced a completely new approach to photography in Germany. He abhorred the vagueness and falsification of photography of the art nouveau period (1890–1914). A firmbeliever in straight photography, he was fascinated by the beauty of everyday things. Like Strand before him, Renger-Patzsch considered a purely objective photography to be the true, if unattainable, goal. His photographs are characterized by strong design, factual documentation, and stark realism stressing materials. Like Weston he insisted that the final image should exist, in all itscompleteness, before the exposure was made and that the print should directly record this image in full detail.

Renger-Patzsch's work was first exhibited in 1925, and three years later his most famous book appeared, Die Welt ist schön (“The World Is Beautiful”). The very title set the work apart in a period when artists were more concerned with creating abstractions than interpreting the environment. Renger-Patzsch looked hard at the world. The art historian Heinrich Schwarz wrote in 1929: “If today the photographs ofRenger-Patzsch create more pure pleasure than many paintings, it is not an accident, but evidence that the time has found in the photographer a more sensitive instrument for the expression of its artistic needs than in the painter.” Renger-Patzsch's subsequent books were largely concerned with regional landscapes and architecture, but his last two publications, Im Wald (1958; “Trees”) and Gestein (1966; “Stones”), have an abstract beauty inspired by their themes.

Neue Sachlichkeit gathered momentum when Karl Blossfeldt's breathtaking, detailed magnifications of plants, which he had taken around 1900 to assist him in modeling plants, were published in Original Forms of Art (1928), followed by the Magic Garden of Nature (1932). About that time, August Sander, sick of the sweet-looking, posed studio portraits by which he had made his living for nearly 30 years,vowed “From now on I only want the honest truth about our time and people.” In Portrait of an Epoch (1929) Sander presented such an unflattering portrait of the German middle class that in 1934 the Nazis impounded all unsold copies. Sander's idea of photographing tradespeople in his studio in Cologne inspired the American fashion photographer Irving Penn to shoot a similar series 30 years later. In both cases the portraits are unconvincing because the workers are divorced from their usual surroundings. The finest portraits of the German intelligentsia of the 1920s were taken by Hugo Erfurth of Dresden. They are imbued with strong artistic conception and a sympathetic understanding of the sitter.

Post-World War I history

Influence of abstract art

In 1919 Christian Schad, a member of the Dada group of modern artists in Geneva, amused himself by arranging small, flat objects directly on photographic paper. Upon exposure to light, the paper darkened more or less or not at all, according to the opacity or transparency of the objects. These “schadographs,” as they came to be called, were minor contributions to the Dada movement and would be forgotten except that they inspired the American Surrealist painter Man Ray and the Hungarian constructivist painter László Moholy-Nagy to produce similar, though larger, abstract photographs.

Man Ray had settled in Paris in 1921 and was supporting himself by taking portraits and fashion photographs. One day he accidentally set a glass funnel, a graduate, and a thermometer on a piece of photographic paper, thus producing “rayographs.”

I turned on the light; before my eyes an image began toform, not quite a simple silhouette of the objects as in astraight photograph, but distorted and refracted by the glass more or less in contact with the paper.

About the same time, in Berlin, Moholy-Nagy (or perhaps his wife, Lucia, a trained photographer) began to use three-dimensional objects to make similar cameraless photographs, which he called “photograms.” Although identical in technique, the work of each was quite different. Man Ray emphasized the distorted but recognizable object; Moholy-Nagy the play of light, no matter how abstract. The former brought to photography the vision of the Surrealists; the latter, that of the Constructivists.

As a teacher in the influential Bauhaus art school, Moholy-Nagy explored the potential of the unconventional use of the camera as a means of discovering form. He delighted in the worm's-eye and the bird's-eye view. He considered the negative an end as well as a means. Amazed at the power of the medium to make visible the invisible, he collected X rays, photomicrographs, and astronomical and ultrahigh-speed photographs. When in 1925 he put together a book of these pictures titled Painting, Photography, Film, the eyes of the world were opened to the scope and breadth of photography as a tool for vision.


The art of combining photographs with watercolour paintingswas a popular pastime in the 1870s. In the first decades of the 20th century the idea of freely combining mediums was revived when Cubist painters began to glue on their abstract canvases words clipped from newspapers, labels from bottles, and even actual objects. The extension of this collage technique (from the French coller, meaning “to glue”) to photography was logical. The German artist John Heartfield, the greatest master of photomontage, claimed that the origin of the technique lay in postcards that he and his friend the German artist George Grosz sent to friends at the front during World War I. These were

a mischmasch of advertisements for hernia belts, student song books and dog food, labels from schnaps and wine bottles, and photographs from picture papers,cut up at will in such a way as to say, in pictures, what would have been banned by the censors if we had said it in words.

Heartfield's photomontages, which were published weekly, first in Berlin and later in Prague, between 1929 and 1938, have a savage quality. Violent contrasts of the scale and perspective of the image elements, the ruthless cropping of heads and bodies, the substitution of machine parts for vital organs, and other seeming illogical juxtapositions, were carefully calculated to have a shock effect. Heartfield's anti-Fascist montages were among the strongest protests made by any visual artist.

Excellent montages were also produced in the 1920s by the German artists Hannah Höch, Herbert Bayer, Otto Umbehr, and the Surrealist painter Max Ernst. Most of these combinedphotographs cut from newspapers with other ephemera to express a specific idea. The montages of the Constructivists are more architectural: space is created with the purely photographic self-portrait of the Russian artist El Lissitzky (1924) and a fantasy world is built by Moholy-Nagy in his “Leda and the Swan.” The power of montage lies in the tensions set up by the juxtaposition of disparate visual elements.

Documentary photography

At this same period, the documentary photographs of Eugène Atget first became known to the public. Beginning around 1898, this French photographer produced approximately 10,000 photographs of Paris and its environs that were direct, straightforward, and poetic in their sympathetic rendering of the very fabric of the city. He photographed shop fronts, buildings, wheeled vehicles of all kinds, decorative details, and the people who earned their living in the streets. Unknown to the photographic world, Atget worked alone, supporting himself by selling prints to architects, painters, and, above all, museums. The beauty of his photographs attracted the attention of Man Ray, who published a few of them in the periodical La Revolution Surréaliste in 1926. Upon Atget's death in 1927 his entire collection of prints and negatives was saved for posterity by the U.S. photographer Berenice Abbott (with the help of the New York art dealer Julien Levy); they are now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.

Although Atget was one of the most prominent photographers in the documentary field, he was by no meansthe first. The value of the photograph as a record of the worldand man's conditions and achievements has been evident since the inception of the medium in 1839.

Early documentary photographs were used to relay information about important events (e.g., the Brady staff's record of the Civil War) as well as the scenery and people of distant or unexplored lands. They were also used to record the successive stages of significant or complex projects. TheEnglish artist Philip Henry Delamotte, for example, was hiredto document in weekly photographs the progress of the construction of the Crystal Palace in London, from the laying of its foundation in 1852 to its opening by Queen Victoria two years later. Shortly afterward, by order of the French government, Édouard-Denis Baldus photographed to scale the sculpture, capitals, scrollwork, and other architectural details of the new wing of the Louvre Museum. Valuable workof a similar timely nature was undertaken by the English photographers Alfred and John Bool and Henry Dixon. Between 1875 and 1886 they worked for the Society for Photographing Old London, recording the historic buildings and relics that were gradually disappearing as a result of modernization.

The recognition of the power of photography to persuade as well as to inform came somewhat later. The classic sociological study London Labour and the London Poor , by Henry Mayhew (1851–62), was illustrated with drawings partly copied from daguerreotypes taken by Richard Beard; a sequel, patterned upon it, appeared in 1877—Street Life in London, by Adolphe Smith and John Thomson. The photographs, taken by Thomson, were moving, straightforward pictures of chimney sweeps, flower sellers, bargemen, and other tradesmen. They were reproduced by the woodburytype process, which gave exact, permanent facsimiles of the original prints. The intent of the publication was to show—as Charles Dickens had shown in his novels—the hardships and problems faced by the ever-growing working-class population of London. Each of the photographs was accompanied by a detailed explicative text by Smith. Oscar G. Rejlander photographed orphan children in the streets of London performing such humble tasks as cleaning boots and sweeping streets.

To Jacob A. Riis, a police reporter in New York City in the 1880s, the camera became the ally of his pen in the personal crusade he was waging to better the lot of the immigrants who then lived and worked in wretched conditions in tenements in Manhattan's Lower East Side. Himself an immigrant—he arrived in New York from Denmark in 1870—he knew at first hand the conditions he was seeking toeradicate. To supplement his written descriptions, he turned to photography. When the cameraman he employed proved unsatisfactory, he learned the process himself and was one of the first to use flash powder, a German invention recently introduced to the United States. His photographs, published in crude facsimile in newspapers and in his now-famous books, How the Other Half Lives (1890) and Children of the Poor (1892), were instrumental in stimulating legislative reform.

Beginning in 1905, Lewis W. Hine, a teacher at the Ethical Culture School in New York and a trained sociologist, began to make a pictorial record of immigrants passing through Ellis Island. He followed them in New York City, photographing them in their living quarters, at work, and in the streets. Later Hine traveled to textile mills, mines, and other places where young children were employed; largely through the evidence of his photographs, legislation was eventually passed against child-labour abuses.

In England Sir Benjamin Stone, a member of Parliament for Birmingham, was obsessed by the wish to document old English customs and pageants that he rightly feared would gradually disappear. He was the most active member of the National Photographic Record Association, which he had founded for this purpose in 1895, leaving to the city of Birmingham a collection of 22,000 photographs.

The body of photographs produced for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression in the United States has been preserved for future generations by the Library of Congress. The pictures cover the period from 1935until the outbreak of World War II and were taken by a group of dedicated photographers, under the direction of Roy E. Stryker. Stryker, a professor of economics at Columbia University, was invited by the Secretary of Agriculture to form a historical section in the department to document the plight of farmers driven from their land in the dust bowl and who were migrating to the West. This at once took the form of a photographic project. The first photographer to be hired was Arthur Rothstein, a student of Stryker's. From California came Dorothea Lange, who had photographed migratory workers there. Her photographs are notable for their compassionate attitude toward people. In her “Migratory PeaPicker,” a destitute young mother, surrounded by her children, peers at the camera with determination and courage. Walker Evans, with a direct uncompromising sense of environment and the beauty of everyday architecture, contributed a notable series. With the writer James Agee he documented the lives of sharecroppers in the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941). Others were documenting America at this time: Berenice Abbott produced a notable series of photographs of New York City, and Margaret Bourke-White with her husband, Erskine Caldwell, did a passionate survey of the South, which appeared in book formas You Have Seen Their Faces (1937).


From the outset, photography has served the press. Within weeks after the French government's announcement of the process in 1839, magazines were publishing woodcuts or lithographs with the byline “from a daguerreotype.” In fact, the two earliest illustrated weeklies—The Illustrated London News , which started in May 1842, and L'Illustration, based in Paris from its first issue in March 1843—owe their origin to the invention of photography. Early reproductions were generally crude, however, and carried little of the conviction of the original photograph. Regular use of photographs in magazines began with the perfection of the halftone processfor facsimile reproduction in the 1890s. By 1915 newspapers had also turned to photography for reporting topical events, and the profession of newspaper illustrator graduallybecame obsolete. Although technical advances improved reproduction quality, the subjects and styles of early journalistic photography were generally unimaginative and dull.

It was not until the appearance of the Ermanox in 1924 and the Leica in 1925 that a new approach to pictorial journalism began to emerge. These two German-made miniature cameras, fitted with wide-aperture lenses, required extremely short exposure times for outdoor work and were even able to photograph indoor scenes by available light. This capability led to photographs whose informality of poseand sense of presence were remarkable. In 1928–29 two of the largest picture magazines in Europe, the Münchner Illustrierte Presse and the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, began to print the new style of photographs. Erich Salomon captured revealing candid portraits of politicians and other personalities by sneaking his camera into places and meetings officially closed to photographers. Felix H. Man was encouraged by Stefan Lorant, editor of the Münchner Illustrierte, to take sequences of photographs at interviews and cultural and social events. Lorant then laid out the photographs in imaginative picture essays.

The example of the German picture magazines was followedin other parts of Europe and in the United States. One was the short-lived Vu, established in Paris in 1928. An issue of Vu devoted entirely to the Spanish Civil War contained memorable photographs by Robert Capa. In 1936 both Life and Look were conceived in America, and a formula was evolved in which the picture editor, photographer, researcher, and writer constituted a team. The result was the creation of a definite photographic style.

Life's first photographers were Margaret Bourke-White, already famous for her industrial photographs made largely for the magazine Fortune; Alfred Eisenstaedt, an experienced photo reporter for the Keystone Picture Agency in Germany; Peter Stackpole, whose photographs of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco attracted much attention; and Thomas D. McAvoy, a news photographer who had pioneered in photographing interior scenes by available light. The concept of Life from the start, according to its founder, Henry Luce, was to replace haphazard picture taking and editing with the “mind-guided camera.” Photographers were briefed for their assignments and encouraged to take great quantities of photographs, in order that the editors might have a large selection. The visual organization of the picture story was carefully planned for maximum reader impact. The opening photograph of the picture essay established the situation, and like written narration there was a visual climax and a definite conclusion.Usually the photographs were chosen and arranged on the pages before the accompanying text was written. Unlike the illustrated article, the picture essay quite logically is based upon the photographs, and the text is devoted to informationthat cannot be expressed visually: names, dates, places.

Life and Look preferred to use pictures of great sharpness and depth. Thus, instead of unobtrusive miniature cameras, American photographers used large-format cameras requiring slow lenses, large plates, and additional flash light.At first, the photographers made great use of so-called synchroflash; i.e., flash that was synchronized with the camera shutter. The next step was the multiple flash, which made possible more sophisticated and pleasing lighting effects. By duplicating the existing illumination with the flash lighting, photographers could await the moment when people were at their most natural and then make the exposure without the need for posing.

This way of photographing was soon challenged. Lorant, whohad left the Münchner Illustrierte Presse, moved in 1934 fromGermany to London. There, he established the magazines Weekly Illustrated (1934) and Picture Post (1938). Staff photographers on both magazines included old colleagues from Germany, such as Man and Kurt Hutton. They, as well asother contributors, were encouraged to develop the technique and pictorial style of available-light photographs so brilliantly begun in the 1920s. Their pictures had a remarkable naturalness that brought great reader appeal—so much so that Life began to publish similar photographs and in 1945 hired a former Picture Post photographer, Leonard McCombe, with an extraordinary clause in his contract: he was forbidden to use flash.

Memorable groups of photographs have been taken for the picture magazines. Examples are Man's “A Day with Mussolini,” first published in the Münchner Illustrierte Presse(1931), and then, with a brilliant new layout, in Picture Post; W. Eugene Smith's “Spanish Village” (1951) and “Nurse Midwife” (1951) in Life; and Eisenstaedt's informal, penetrating portraits of famous Britons, also in Life.

The photojournalist's ability to train himself to perceive the significant in the fraction of a second and to use the camera with such speed and precision that the instantaneous perception is preserved forever is a great creative gift. The gift is evident in the work of the Hungarian André Kertész as early as 1915 and in his later work in Paris during the 1920s. The Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson began around 1930 to develop the style that he later called the search for the “decisive moment.” To him the camera was an “extension ofthe eye.” With extraordinary precision he perceived a fully composed picture of the most fleeting scenes. Unlike many other photographers, he did not crop or recompose his pictures after they had been taken: every detail of a Cartier-Bresson photograph is present in the negative. He preferred the miniature 35-mm-film camera. When he found a picture possibility he stalked his prey unobtrusively, working with his camera to a visual climax.

Colour photography

Photography's transmutation of nature's colours into various shades of black and white had been considered a drawback of the process from its inception. Hence, at the request of a client, many portrait photographers collaborated with artists who hand-tinted daguerreotypes and calotypes or painted over albumen prints in oils. Some artists also copied the photograph onto canvas; others, such as Franz von Lenbach in Munich, had the image projected onto canvas that had been made light-sensitive, whereupon they painted freely over it. In Japan, where hand-coloured woodcuts had a great tradition and labour was cheap, some firms from the 1870s on sold photographs of scenic views and daily life that had been delicately hand-tinted. In the 1880s photochromes, colour prints made from hand-coloured photographs, became fashionable and remained popular until they were gradually replaced in the first decades of the 20th century by Autochrome plates.

The Autochrome process, the first practical colour photography process, was introduced in France in 1907 by Auguste and Louis Lumière. It used a colour screen (a glass plate covered with grains of starch dyed to act as primary-colour filters and black dust that blocked all unfiltered light) coated with a thin film of panchromatic (i.e., sensitive to all colours) emulsion and resulted in a positive colour transparency. The Lumières' success was due in part to the introduction of panchromatic emulsion the previous year by a London firm of photographic plate manufacturers. All previous experimenters trying to solve the problem of colour photography had been seriously impeded by the comparative insensitivity of the earlier negative material to all colours except blue and violet.

Researchers continued to look for improvements and alternative colour processes, and in 1935 Leopold Godowsky, Jr., and Leopold Mannes, two American musicians working with the Kodak Research Laboratories, initiated the modern era of colour photography with their invention of Kodachrome film. With this reversal (slide) film, colour transparencies could be obtained that were suitable both for projection and for reproduction. A year later the Agfa Company of Germany developed the Agfacolor negative–positive process, but due to World War II the film did not become available until 1949. Meanwhile, Kodak had introduced in 1942 the Kodacolor negative–positive film that, 20 years later—after many improvements in quality and speed and a great reduction in price—became the most popular film used for amateur photography. Today about 80 percent of all photographs are shot in colour.

Later trends

Throughout its history, there have been two complementary yet distinct aesthetic approaches to photography. On the one hand, there has been the recognition of the basic qualities of photography and the desire to make use of them in a functional way. On the other hand, there have beenthose who believe that the most aesthetic use of photography is to relate it to other mediums. Since 1950 both these trends have been pursued with vigour, and to them has been added a third approach, the expressive, emotional use of photography pioneered by Stieglitz with his “equivalents” series.

In the United States, Minor White, through his long career, hiswriting, his teaching, and his founding and editing of the influential magazine Aperture, developed the Stieglitz approach to a highly sophisticated level. For him, the photograph must be transformed in such a manner that the viewer can read an inner message, which is not visible upon the surface, but which is carried by it. White's book Mirrors, Messages, Manifestations (1970) is a collection of superb photographs that present his spiritual biography.

To Aaron Siskind, who worked with wall scrawls, weathered wood and plaster, torn billboards, and what he called “the detritus of our world,” the photograph must communicate more than the subject itself. The photographs of Harry Callahan express his highly developed sense of linear form, often by means of sharp contrasts of black and white and multiple images.

One of the finest photographers working after World War II was former Life photographer Andreas Feininger. His dramatic close-ups of architecture and nature reveal a thorough understanding of design, composition, and structure, which can perhaps be attributed to his early training as an architect.

Colour photography has become increasingly popular within the ranks of the amateur. Although many professionals have explored the artistic possibilities of colour, which can add intensity and realism to the picture and increase interest in the subject, some prefer black-and-white to colour film for aesthetic reasons. Among professional colour photographers, Eliot F. Porter and Marie Cosindas (one of the first to work with Polaroid instant films) were the leaders in America: both preferred a somewhat realistic approach.

A considerable impediment to a more widespread use of colour in monographs and other publications studying the artof photography is the often prohibitive price of colour reproduction.

The urban social scene viewed objectively without sentiment or moralization—often called the “social landscape”—has been a subject of much interest to photographers in both the United States and Europe. The work of such photographers as Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson, and William Klein takes the form of penetrating sociological observations, somewhat reminiscent of the documentary photography of the 1930s. The approach differs in that, rather than presenting problems faced by a certain level of society, emphasis is placed on the effects of the urban environment upon people.

In England and Europe, trends closely parallel those in the United States. Bill Brandt, whose classic social reportage began with the book The English at Home (1936) and continued during World War II with trenchant photographs of life in the bomb shelters of London, changed his style during the 1950s. Using an extremely wide-angle lens he created startling abstract studies of nudes, some of which are reminiscent of Henry Moore sculptures. Cecil Beaton, fashion photographer for British Vogue, created pictures withexquisite taste. His moving photographs of London during the bombing of World War II and of other scenes of the war stress the human aspect rather than the military. The “social landscape” school is well represented in the work of Tony Ray-Jones and Raymond Moore. The strongest contribution probably lies in the field of photojournalism. George Rodger, one of the founders of the Magnum agency and a former Life photographer, and Bert Hardy, a former Picture Post photographer, provided a solid tradition for the work of Don McCullin, who—like Robert Capa before him—traveled from war to war, photographing with deep compassion the conflicts that appeared in his book The Destruction Business(1971).

The most imaginative photographs in Europe are mostly made for publication, rather than for exhibition or hanging in galleries and homes. Europeans, in general, do not consider the photographic print as an end in itself, but as a step toward reproduction in periodicals and books. Brassaï (the pseudonym of Gyulas Halász) made his name in photography with the publication of Paris de nuit (1933), intimate and sympathetic photographs of night life in the more humble quarters of Paris. In the 1950s, like Aaron Siskind, he became fascinated with wall scrawls and graffiti. Robert Doisneau was a master of humour and satire, catching moments of absurdity in everyday life. Lucien Clergue turned to the natural scene and to the nude in surf. The tradition of cameraless abstraction was enriched by the Belgian Pierre Cordier with the introduction in 1958 of his “chimigrammes”—colour images made, not by light, but chemical action on photographic paper.

In Germany the greatest influence was the teaching of Otto Steinert at Saarbrücken and, since 1959, at the Folkwangschule in Essen. Almost single-handedly he brought back to Germany that spirit of experimentation and boldness of concept that had been suppressed during the Third Reich. An excellent photographer, Steinert was the founder in 1951, together with the art historian J.A. Schmoll gennant Eisenweth, of a movement they named “Subjective Photography.” He led the group “Fotoform,” which first exhibited its work in 1950, to explore the creative potential of any possible expressive technique. Peter Keetman is one of the strongest representatives of Fotoform's dedication to creating innovative, expressive graphic designs and abstract patterns. Robert Häusser, a student of Steinert, was strongly influenced by Fotoform in his early work. Later he introduced mystifying elements into his landscapes, willfullydistorting reality until it bordered on abstract expressionism.Chargesheimer, like Robert Frank in the United States, laid great stress on the unpleasant side of his themes in hard, almost brutal photographs of German cities. Floris M. Neusüss, who teaches at the University of Kassel, in Germany, is a great exponent of conceptual photography, which uses concepts as material and in which the preconceived idea is more important than the object. Erwin Fieger stands out with such books as 13 Photo-Essays (1969), Japan, Sunrise Island (1971), and Mexico (1973) as one of the finest in the field of colour reportage. Horst Baumann specialized in illustration, particularly in colour.

The Austrian Ernst Haas was a master of colour photography, turning toward the abstract in his remarkablephotographs of blurred action and bold compositions. A member of the Magnum group, a cooperative formed by Cartier-Bresson and others in 1947, Haas produced work thatis international in scope.

Outstanding among Swiss photographers working after World War II was Werner Bischof, who, until his death in 1954,movingly photographed refugees in Europe, the famine in India, Japan, and the Incas of Peru. Superb colour work was produced by Emil Schulthess for his books Africa (1959), The Amazon (1962), China (1966), and others. Georg Gerster revealed in his aerial views, primarily taken in colour, a beauty of design that frequently comes close to modern art.

The Czech Josef Sudek (1896–1976) is best known abroad for his still lifes, Vilem Heckel for his photographs of industry and mountains, Karel Plicka for his views of Prague, and JosefKoudelka for his impressive work on Gypsies. In Sweden each member of the group of photographers known as TIO (“Ten”) has produced outstanding work. Each works in a different field, but all are united by their modern style. The most gifted Russian photographer, Alexander M. Rodchenko, was too modern for Stalin's taste, and his work was banished until the dictator's death. During World War II Dimitri Baltermans produced fine reportage work on the front.

In Italy Franco Fontana, shooting in colour with telelenses, created amazing abstractions of landscapes, fields, and buildings; Mario de Biasi made a fine record of the uprising in Budapest in 1956; and Fulvio Roiter produced a series of travel books, the most sensitive and romantic of which focused on his hometown, Venice. The chief concern of most photographers in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, however, is centred upon the recording of the social scene: Mario Giacomelli's series of photographs of nuns and village life is typical and outstanding.

In Japan the extraordinary documentary and landscape photographs by Hiroshi Hamaya parallel the straight photographic approach. Superb photographs were also produced by Takayuki Ogawa, the social realist, and by the imaginative Eikoh Hosoe.

A lively interest in expanding the medium of photography beyond the straight approach was characteristic of much work in the late 20th century. The experimentation took many forms, including the revival of long-obsolete printing techniques such as the gum bichromate process and the platinotype. Perhaps the most startling change to come about after 1960 was an interchange of mediums between photographers and painters. Many photographers made liberal use of manual techniques, such as negative and print retouching and the addition of colour. Simultaneously, painters, who had long utilized photographs as tools for observation, boldly imitated the very quality of photographic vision and sometimes introduced unaltered photographs by collage techniques or silkscreen reproduction directly into their canvases.

Another late 20th-century trend was the photographer's increasing reliance on books for the presentation of his work.Several factors contributed to this practice, among them the demise of many of the major picture magazines, technical developments that provided better printing quality at lower costs, and the complete acceptance of photography as an art worthy of study and preservation.

Beaumont Newhall

Helmut Erich Robert Gernsheim


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