The peculiar part about telling this story is that it is hard to know where to begin. It seems like long before the invention of the medium, photography had existed in our consciousness We desired a way to capture the fleeting moments, gestures and details which eluded the painters canvas. We wanted to flay the skin of life itself and hold it in our hands.
So when on the 7th of January 1839 Louis Daguerre revealed his process to members of the French Académie des Sciences it was without doubt an invention born of necessity and desire. The fact that less than a month later at a meeting of the Royal Institution in London William Henry Fox Talbot announced his unique photographic process, and displayed photographs he had made in 1835, Might well have suggested that he was the inventor of the photograph, However on a summer day in 1827 a man called Joseph Nicephore Niepce took the first photograph. It was only after his death that his colleague Louis Daguerre announced the process. The truth is that all of these men were fathers to photography and photography’s story began with a desire and not a process.
In so many ways you would expect that to be the starting point of our story but it is in fact the end, what Daguerre, Talbot and Niepce did was to solve the final part of the problem, That is to fix an image, to hold a projected image on paper or silver. The first part of the problem was focusing light and artists had been doing this as an aid to drawing for sometime. At first with the camera obscura meaning dark room and later with the camera lucida meaning light room. These drawing aids had a subtle and remarkable influence on the work painters like Caravaggio, Velázquez, da Vinci, and Vermeer. British artist David Hockney explored this in his book “Secret Knowledge “ and revealed the subtle evidence of the use of optics in many of the old masters work. Some people feel that it cheapens the work of these artists to suggest that they used a lens to project an image and work from that, However I feel quite the opposite In some small way the use of lens and the characteristics it imbued not only made for a new era in realism but also prepared us visually for the photographic era which we were so desperately seeking.