Snapshots: The Art of Capturing Beauty – A History

by | Feb 15, 2022 | blog page | 0 comments

The world is a lovely place. Its beauty resonates in every corner of the planet. This beauty has moved the first humans to decorate caves, painters to take to their canvases, and photographers to snap the iridescent colors of nature and present them to the world in modern times. 

Artists from different historical times have tried to capture and give justice to all that surrounds them: people, events, places — the colors of human history and nature. And no other art form accurately captures beauty, quite like the art of photography. Fine art photography prints grace the walls of homes and studios and museums much like the way paintings still do, and the way cave writings decorated the walls of the caves where the first humans once took shelter. 

Beginnings of photography

Photography creates images by recording light either through an image sensor or through light-sensitive materials like film. 

The art and practice of photography can be traced back to the 5th and 6th centuries when Greek mathematicians described the camera obscura, which means dark chamber in Latin. It is like a box with a small hole on one side that allows certain light rays entry and then projects an inverted image onto either a piece of paper or a viewing screen. Renaissance painters used the camera obscura to aid in their paintings. 

Ibn al-Hytham, an Arab physicist, invented the pinhole camera. al-Hytham performed experiments with afterimages that lay the path for the invention of photography in the 19th century. 

In 1800, the first known attempt to capture an image using the camera obscura was made by Thomas Wedgwood. He used a silver nitrate-treated material. He managed to capture the shadows of the objects placed on the surface under direct sunlight. The shadow images, however, darkened over time. 

Nicephore Niepce created the first successful photo etching. View from the Window at Le Gras is his work, the earliest surviving nature photo. It was an image of a nature scene created in a camera obscura using a lens. 

Louis Daguerre created the first photographic image with people in it, and the image was called a daguerreotype. It was a view of a busy street. But because the exposure lasted several long minutes, the resulting image looked as if the street was empty except for two people near the bottom of the daguerreotype — a man getting his shoes polished and the boy polishing them. They were the only people who stood still long enough to be captured in the image. 

Photography as an art

Before photography was accepted as an art form, it was debated whether photography was merely documentation of reality or a form of artistic expression. Pictorialists were the first group of photographers who considered themselves artists. But most of them were trained painters who followed the painting traditions and imitated painting styles. They were active in the last quarter of the 19th century. It was still when long exposures to capture images, and therefore pictorialists had to choose still subjects. 

With the first 35mm invention, the camera, and technological advances came the photographic art of snapping candid images. It was called candid photography, popularized by Henri Cartier-Bresson. He went around with his small Leica camera and captured life as it happened. It made the resulting photographs that captured movement even more realistic and believable. 

In modern times, photography is classified within the broader meaning of visual arts. And within the visual arts, photography can fall under two categories: commercial art or fine art. The difference between the two categories is that commercial art is produced to promote something sold commercially. The bottom line of commercial photography is to sell. An excellent example of this would be food photography, where restaurants hire photographers to take pictures of their food to drum up public interest in their restaurant. 

Fine art photography is more free-flowing and is geared towards presenting pictures as art. Each picture is an expression of the photographer’s artistic vision and emotions. The juxtaposition of objects captured in a photograph can stir the minds of beholders, allowing for individual interpretations of the same photograph. 

Nowadays, more people are getting involved in photography, with the prevalence of smartphone cameras. Novice photographers or anyone interested in photography can now start taking pictures and learning the art of photography with their phones. 

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