what were they thinking?

Camera Lucida in use. Courtesy of Neolucida

Toronto. Today, we all take photography for granted. Images are shot endlessly to record things once written, or capture family moments, or pets, or property changes, etc. We leave news, tv, political, formal portraits, etc. images to the professionals. With exceptions, of course, like someone right there with a smartphone – or a TV network soliciting ‘free’ photos … .

Nicéphore Niépce, considered by many as the father of photography, was trying to simplify lithography and printing by using the sun to capture a scene directly on a pewter printing plate. The vast potential of photography wasn’t even considered back then. His partner in that collaboration, Louis Daguerre, produced dioramas, those huge painted displays that cleverly changed scenes when cautiously placed lighting was dimmed or brightened. He wanted to capture distant scenes so his huge panels could be painted from the prints at another place and a later time.

A similar invention by Henry Fox Talbot was intended to capture landscapes by the effect of the sun. Fox Talbot was an amateur artist and the idea occurred to him while he was on a painting holiday (honeymoon?) in Italy using a Camera Lucida to get his landscape proportions right.  His invention preceded the daguerreotype but he kept it for his own use. The Daguerreotype announcement pushed him to announce his own process in the same month (January 1839).

Thomas Wedgwood of the famous pottery family in England has been described as the first photographer in spite of his early death decades before the January 1839 announcements. Using the fact that silver nitrate was sensitive to sunlight and darkened depending on the duration and intensity of it, Wedgwood attempted to capture the popular Camera Obscura images of the day. Unsuccessful, he also tried silhouettes with more success, but the images also faded to black whether kept in darkness or not.

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