The word photography was first coined by scientist Sir John F.W. Herschel in 1839. The word comes from two Greek words meaning “light” (photo) and “to draw” (graphein). However it wasn’t until around 1000 AD that the first pinhole camera was invented by the Arab scholar Alhazen (Ibn Al-Haytham), who was known as the “Father of Modern Optics” by the scientific community. The pinhole camera, known as the Camera Obscura (Latin for “dark room”), was simply a closed box with a hole on one side of it where light would come through the tiny hole to create an image on the wall of the box of the outside scene that was mirrored and appeared upside down. It was often used by artists to make sketches in the field.
The first photograph was actually taken during the summer of 1827 by Joseph Nicephore Niepce using the Camera Obscura. Prior to this these cameras were used for viewing or drawing. Niepce’s photograph were called heliographs or sun prints and were the prototype so to speak for today’s photographs in using light to draw pictures. By placing an engraving onto a metal plate coated in bitumen then exposing it to light Niepce was able to make his photographs. This process took eight hours of light exposure to create.
The Museum of Modern Art has on their website some interesting information surrounding the Camera Obsura to check out.
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