Since its inception, photography has been used to capture moments in time all around the world. This wonderful technology has existed since ancient times, and has only improved in recent history, changing society in the process.
While we think of photography as a fairly modern invention, that is simply not true. In fact, there are documents on the underlying principle behind photography dating back to as early as the Fifth Century, B.C. The first recorded instance of a photographic image was found in 5th Century China. During that time, Chinese philosopher and scholar Mo-Ti described how light passing through a pinhole into a dark room created an inverted, full color image on the opposite wall. Mo-Ti the room he used to produce this phenomenon his “Collecting Place,” or “Locked Treasure Room,” referencing the fact that it collects an image, and must sealed off from light in order to function. This device will later come to be known as the “camera obscura” (latin for “dark room” due to In Greece in the 4th Century B.C., Aristotle used the same principle to view a partial solar eclipse projected onto the ground using a sieve. Later in the 10th Century, Scholar Abu Ali al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham (referred to as Alhazen for brevity’s sake) fully described the underlying principles, including multiple experiments involving five lanterns outside a darkened, pinholed room. The technology used further improved in the 16th century, when a convex lens was added to improve image quality, and a mirror was used to reflect the image onto a viewing surface, reorienting it to match reality. All of these innovations were created before the United States were founded.
The camera obscura proved to be an incredible useful device, artists used the projected image to aid in painting a subject. However, it held one glaring flaw: while it could project images onto paper, it could not capture them, limiting its usefulness. A solution to this issue came to be in 1824 when J.N. Niepce invented the photogravure, an image taken by a camera obscura that is transferred to a specially treated metallic plate. The oldest surviving photogravure taken by Niepce dates back to 1827. This photo, titled “View through a window in Gras” took over eight hours of exposure to create, and even then, the image that was created was blurry and monochrome. After Niepce’s death, his business partner, French painter Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre continued to work on improving image quality and reducing exposure time. Eventually, Daguerre discovered a method that involved exposing the metal plate to mercury fumes. This method became known as the “daguerreotype.” Over the next several decades photography continued to improve, bringing it closer and closer to the art and science we know today.