Skip to main content

The Camera Obscura

Illustration of the camera obscura phenomenon
of naturally projected images
a small opening in a dark interior


The optical and physical aspects of the phenomenon of the camera obscura were known, and speculated about, since Antiquity. But it was only in the Renaissance, with the development of optical science and technology and the demand for accuracy in visual representation, that it became the subject of more systematic investigations and was, according to art historians, adapted for practical uses by painters.

Camera Obscura, Reinerus Gemma-Frisius, 1544
Gernsheim, H., The Origins of Photography

"Reinerus Gemma-Frisius, observed an eclipse of the sun at Louvain on January 24, 1544, and later he used this illustration of the event in his book De Radio Astronomica et Geometrica, 1545. It is thought to be the first published illustration of a camera obscura..." Hammond, John H., The Camera Obscura, A Chronicle

The camera obscura apparatus was developed at this time and it is in fact the “father” of the photographic camera: it was indeed the search for a way to make permanent the projected images of the camera obscura that led to the invention of photography by Daguerre and Talbot in the 19th century.

"Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680) (alt: Anastasius) in a book written in 1646,
described one [a camera obscura] which consisted of an outer shell with lenses
in the centre of each wall, and an inner shell containing transparent paper for
drawing; the artist needed to enter by a trapdoor."



Popular posts from this blog

Group f/64 Manifesto (1932)

Ansel Adams by Dorothea Lange

Group f/64 Manifesto
The name of this Group is derived from a diaphragm number of the photographic lens. It signifies to a large extent the qualities of clearness and definition of the photographic image which is an important element in the work of members of this Group.
The chief object of the Group is to present in frequent shows what it considers the best contemporary photography of the West; in addition to the showing of the work of its members, it will include prints from other photographers who evidence tendencies in their work similar to that of the Group.
Group f/64 is not pretending to cover the entire of photography or to indicate through its selection of members any deprecating opinion of the photographers who are not included in its shows. There are great number of serious workers in photography whose style and technique does not relate to the metier of the Group.
Group f/64 limits its members and invitational names to those workers who are strivin…

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)

Alexander Gardner
The home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg

Alexander Gardner Dead Confederate sharpshooter at the foot of Round Top.  Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1863. Alexander Gardner.
Richmond, Virginia. "Ruins of Gallego Mills." April 1865

The Lincoln Conspirators, 1865

Alexander Gardner, Lincoln 1865

The Daguerreotype portrait: the aesthetics of the real

The notion of what we may call an “artless art” was applied at different times, and with different intentions, to photography and the Daguerreotype. The image produced “directly” by nature, bypassing the intervention of the hand of the artist, was the object of amazement at first, and praised for its astounding fidelity of detail: an “art form” therefore that “no painter could ever match”. 
The popularization of the daguerreotype as the 19th century progressed, brought about by technical improvements allowing for the mass production of images and specially, for the first time, the mass production of portraits, produced also as a counter-current, a kind of  “over familiarity” with the daguerreotype portrait. And with it, a relative weariness about the repetitious, the unstudied, the narrowly documentary and "vulgar" or commonplace qualities (issues only partially explained by inherent  limitations of the Daguerreotype technique for portraiture, such as exposure time requiremen…