We’re surrounded by so much visual imagery today, it’s easy to forget how astonished people must have been when first faced with things they’d never seen with their own eyes. Imagine trying to describe a giraffe to someone in London or a platypus to a Parisian prior to the invention of photography! Here’s five photographic firsts, which changed all that, and much, much more.
Nicéphore Niépce Pigeon House and Barn, 1827
In a world of millions of megapixels and High Definition, this image by Nicéphore Niépce may not seem too amazing. But amazing it is and in many ways is the founding father of every picture in existence today.
Next time you complain about your camera think of poor old Nicéphore. ‘Pigeon House and Barn’ was made by dissolving bitumen in lavender oil, and coating a sheet of pewter with the mixture. The prepared sheet was then placed inside a camera obscura for eight hours. After the exposure, it was washed with lavender oil to remove the unexposed and still soft bitumen, leaving behind an image created by the photographic process of exposure to light.
Whilst undoubtedly not user friendly, photography had just been invented. (And as if that’s not enough, Niépce also invented the very first internal combustion engine, the Pyréolophore)!
Louis Daguerre ‘Boulevard du Temple’, 1838
Although initially appearing as a simple cityscape, this Daguerreotype from 1838 is the first photograph ever to record a human being.
With an exposure time of over ten minutes, most other human activity is blurred to the point of invisibility. However, the two men in the lower left of the image, (a boot shiner and his client) were static enough for the long exposure to capture them.
The Daguerreotype was a thin silver-plated copper sheet which had been exposed to the vapor from iodine crystals, creating a light sensitive silver iodide surface. The captured image was then chemically treated and fixed to stop the light sensitivity.
Eadweard Muybridge Animal Locomotion California USA, 1878
If you’ve ever looked a 19th century painting of an animal and thought it looked a bit funny, then Eadweard Muybridge is a person you should know about. Born in London, but spending much of his life in the USA, Muybridge’s inventions and photographs are often credited with instigating the idea of moving image and cinema.
A businessman in California had the idea that when horses ran there was a point when all four legs were in the air at once – and Muybridge set about to gain that proof. Since no camera until then was capable of such high speed photography, these images were true revelations and, literally, changed the way people saw movement forever.
Wilhelm Conrad Röentgen First Human X-ray, 1895
It was a Friday afternoon in the winter of 1895 and Wilhelm Conrad Röentgen was re-creating an experiment to test the effect of electric discharges passing through various types of vacuum tubes. By a chance set of circumstances he noticed a fluorescent emission on a nearby piece of card coated with barium platinocyanide.
Two weeks of tireless work later, he had developed a test to ‘photograph’ this new type of ray that he had discovered and called his wife to the laboratory. Upon seeing the image of her skeleton she declared ‘I have seen my death!’
Röentgen named the images X-rays, in keeping with the mathematical principal of x representing an unknown quantity. He was awarded the first Nobel Prize for Physics in 1901.
Russell Kirsch The First Ever Digital Photograph, 1957
In 1957, at the US National Bureau of Standards, a team lead by Russell Kirsch created the first ever digital photograph. Measuring just 5cm x 5cm and consisting of 176 pixels, the black and white image was the product of a digital drum scanner. It is because of Kirsch’s breakthrough that today we have satellite imaging, CAT scans and bar codes – not to mention the Nokia 808 PureView.
Clearly each of these innovations has a well deserved place in photographic history. But which, in your opinion, has been the most important? As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts here or at @Nokia_Connects.