Happy World Photo Day 2016!

Today, August 19th, is officially World Photography Day and a chance to pay homage to the history of the art form and also to look forward to the future of the medium. WPD originates from the invention of the daguerreotype, a photographic process developed by Louis Daguerre. On January 9, 1839 The French Academy of Sciences announced the daguerreotype process and a few months later in August, the government announced the invention as a gift free to the world.

The earliest surviving photo we have is a heliographic image (created by Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827) which shows a view from a window at Le Gras at Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France. Fast forward to now and still we are taking pictures, looking at the outside world from our windows but with the hand held ability to make panoramic visions, 360 degree vistas and click button augmented retouching.

View from the Window at Le Gras

In the 1830’s and 40’s the invention of photography revolutionised culture and communication in the West forever. For the first time, images of ‘real’ life could be captured for posterity and shared globally, something we take for granted now, in our instant share and like, world of social media. Portraits of royalty and other celebrities (far more accurate than paintings) allowed members of the public to feel they were viewing these people ‘in the flesh’. The dead could be remembered, and our obsession with voyeuristic intrusion is even stronger today.

British inventor Fox Talbot produced his first successful photographic images in 1834, without a camera, by placing objects onto paper brushed with light-sensitive silver chloride, which he then exposed to sunlight. By 1840, Talbot had succeeded in producing photogenic drawings in a camera, with short exposures yielding an invisible or ‘latent’ image that could be developed to produce a usable negative. Talbot’s negative-positive process formed the basis of almost all photography on paper up to the digital age.

Step forward almost a century of experimentation and the first digital photograph was taken in 1957; almost 20 years before Kodak’s engineer invented the first digital camera. The photo is a digital scan of a shot initially taken on film. The picture depicts Russell Kirsch’s son and has a resolution of 176×176 – a square photograph worthy of any Instagram profile.

Russell Kirsch son

Trout pout, duck face, hot dogs legs  – all neologisms created in our social media world,  but it was actually Robert Cornelius in 1839 that created the first “Selfie” . The photographic self-portrait was surprisingly common in the early days of photography exploration because it was convenient for the photographer to act as model as well. An amateur chemist and photography enthusiast from Philadelphia, Cornelius had set his camera up at the back of the family store. He took the image by removing the lens cap and then he ran into frame, where he sat for a minute before covering up the lens again. You thought the selfie stick was a new thing  – people have been creating home-made versions of this since 1925. A device that could be considered an extendable selfie stick appeared in the 1969 Czechoslovak sci-fi film I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen, where one character holds a silver stick in front of herself and another character, smiles at the end of the stick as it produces a camera flash, and immediately unfurls a printed photograph of the pair from the stick’s handle.
Robert Cornelius Selfie

Today we have 80 million images posted on Instagram daily with 83% of these having a #hastag, we have film stars taking selfies en masse (remember the 2014 Oscar ceremony one this year with Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep and Brad Pitt et al), but the queen of the self-image is Kendall Jenner who with her crazy hair selfie was the most liked Instagram photo ever with 3.6 million views.

So whether you like fashion, aerial, landscape, macro, underwater, paparazzi – the origins of photography are worth understanding, but also that those pre-millennial pioneers – if around today would be fascinated by our continued passion in viewing and creating photographs and how, in the spirit of Daguerre, a medium to be shared as a free gift to the world and record history in unprecedented detail.

86th Academy Awards - Audience

This blog post was brought to you by photo fanatic Craig Gunn, TNR’s Photography Manager 

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