Society & Culture & Entertainment Visual Arts

The Unfathomable Reaches of Photography

What could have been in the minds of the people who conceived of and eventually invented photography? Could they have imagined that their discoveries could lead to the preservation of images the way they looked in real life? Aristotle's and Euclid's 4th century BC descriptions of the effect of light passing through leaf canopies were the first recorded mention of rudimentary pinhole cameras. By the 10th century, realising that sharper images can be generated with smaller pinholes, Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) improved upon the pinhole camera concept and wrote the idea down in his Book of Optics. It offered a clear description of the camera obscura which in Latin literally means €dark chamber€, the progenitor of our modern-day cameras.

Very slowly, from transfer of images to copper plates coated with silver and treated with various chemicals to develop and harden, the process of coming up with photos became easier and more convenient until the film roll by Kodak replaced the sensitised plate. It did not take long for the camera to become portable.

Improvements on the resolution of pictures also made the camera a very important tool for textbooks and other publications which required clear and magnified images of body tissues, for instance, in the study of biology and medicine. Professors did not have to bring sliced meat to the class to show students how muscles looked like and their reaction to different chemicals and physical stimuli. That would have been very inconvenient and messy since everybody had to have a magnified view of the bloody meat each time.

Without the portability innovation of the camera, the paparazzi could not have caught up with celebrities and hot newsworthy subjects with the bulky and slower earlier versions of the camera obscura. Transferring the photograph to the broadsheet was another matter of long and burdensome process. The roll film made portability and speed possible for photography to be a job or profession on the go.

Wars were covered and recorded in vivid images by dedicated professional photographers. The celluloid film was a later invention that made war documentaries and other similar projects possible. People of our generation can still view these types of material that can kindle some patriotism and sense of reason to regard the irrational cruelty and horrors war as contemptible even as a last resort. In this sense, photography and filmmaking make us more humane by learning how compassion feels.

Even the modern ubiquitous mobile phone is now synonymous with photography. Everybody can now take pictures of anybody and anything that the eyes can see. Thanks to the scientists and other unsung heroes that gave us the wonderful gift of photography. Now, everybody enjoys it the way we conveniently board buses or planes to reach faraway destinations. Photography has indeed gone a long way.

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