The History of Taking Pictures- From Heliograph to Photograph to SnapChat

Everyday we take a picture, most likely using the camera on our phone. These pictures range from photos of our pets to seflies to a frozen puddle outside of our house. We use photographs to share oddities in our surroundings or to amuse our best friend via the app Snapchat. We are a generation focused on visual communication.

However, we often take for granted the speed at which we can both take and share these images.
Joseph Niepsce, Louis Jacque Daguerre, and Edward Weston each explore how time affected the invention of the photograph, who will use it, how to use it, and why.

Niepce, who invented the heliograph and one of the originators of photography itself, had many obstacles in their way that we don’t face today. One of these obstacles Niepce mentions in “Memorie on a heliograph” is that the weather conditions affected whether or not the picture would be able to be developed after it was taken. An example of this is how winter and moisture can deteriorate the varnish (the actual image on the paper) [Neipce 4].

Niepsce could also be seen as the first man to use a dark room for the development of his pictures. Creating a mixture of lavender oil and six types of white minerals (Niepce 3) had to let his “solvent” sit for two to three days before he could put his picture into it to conjure an image. After the image has set in the developer solvent, it must be removed and hung to dry all the developer off before the image would show up. The length it took for this process compared to taking a picture on your phone and having it show up completely accurate and non-distilled mere seconds later is a feat Niepce may not have even imagined possible in the early 1800s.

 At the time of Niepce’s death in 1833, Louis Jacque Daguerre had been working as his partner. Devastated by his partner’s death, but wanting to continue the research Niepce had spent most of his life working on, Daguerre found a way to advance the speed and accuracy of the heliograph. Daguerre explains in the article “Daguerreotype” that he used a different apparatus for taking pictures that sped up the process of developing pictures “so that the shadows in nature should not have time to alter their position” (Daguerre, 2).
This process also approved the accuracy in the pictures making Daguerre’s pictures and making them become popular with people all over the country. He also introduced the idea that these pictures (which he called Daguerrotypes) could also be seen as art, photography could become a hobby for the more elite.

So in actuality it is Daguerre we have to thank for making photography into something that has become of our every day lives. Photography is no longer for the elite, but rather anyone who has access to a camera. Whether it be a professional medium such as something made by Nikon with five different lense sizes or the camera on the back of your smartphone.

Weston on the other hand brings back the argument of how photography is having an impact in the art world. Weston discusses in his article “Seeing Photography” that in order for photography to be seen as an art form once must understand the differences between it and the “fine arts” of the past. Photography is an element of art that happens in an instant, but only that instant alone; it cannot be altered after the picture is taken.  It is also an art that relies on the artist (the “photo painter” as Weston refers to call him.) Weston focuses moreso on the nature of photography and how the photo-painter must “see photographically”, meaning the photographer has to plan what he wants to take an image of and what that photo will convey before actually taking a picture of the moment itself.

Nowadays, with the likes of profile pictures, Instagram, or the ever popular favorite, SnapChat, many of us don’t take time to think of what are picture conveys unless it’s good lighting, a pretty filter, or a slightly disturbing fake double-chin face.

We hardly take into account the process of how photography came to be and how it was widely ridculed at first at being considered an art. Let alone a form of writing. “A picture is worth a thousand words” even if they are all elciting laughter. Take that into account the next time you communicate with a twitpic or a funny snap. Remember family photos and selfies; every image means something to someone. Are they interpreting the message you want to send?


5 thoughts on “The History of Taking Pictures- From Heliograph to Photograph to SnapChat

  1. Science fun fact with the mass photography that you see happening right now. With the accelerated amounts of images being taken, you would think that we would be able to maintain an accurate memory with all the reminders, right? Actually, nope, the extensive image archives actually created a default in our brains that depend less on memory and more on machinery. We have actually reduced our memory functions. It works the same way that essays on google being a problem says too. That the more functioning on the “fast lane” of information the less we retain. Google’s quick search where we find our sentence we needed creates gaps in knowledge and a learning deficiency. Interesting stuff.

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  2. I have to agree with the over-used, over-heard quote, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I think it is the honest truth, and for this reason, we have to be careful of what we take pictures of, no matter what it may be. Everyone nowadays who can land their hands on a smartphone or digital camera thinks that they are a photographer, which is not the case. Like we learned in class from watching our remixes, for example, images/videos can be interpreted in many ways, so we should always be careful of what we send.

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  3. I enjoyed reading this post! And I agree with that the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” is overrated. Back in the day, yes of course a picture was worth a thousand words because those pictures were not as frequent and were “special.” Not all of our selfies are worth 1000 words, even if we want them to be. People might talk 1000 words about it, but that’s just the world we live in. Personally, I would love to take a photography class if I had the time and patience I think! I used to hate waiting to get my film developed or my disposable camera after a school trip, I wanted to see my pictures. There was no screen that previewed our photos. The whole idea of a black room and working on prints you took seems much more valuable and may be worth 1000 words to you when you are done. But, taking out our phones and snapping five pictures a day holds no value with the exception of a few photos worth something to us all. I remember having a phone without a camera on it, imagine if children in our world today had to go through that? What would they do!?

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  4. I have to agree with the fact that, “we are a generation focused on visual communication”. It is so true that we have become a bit obsessed with our phones, Snapchat, Instagram, and other ways of communicating through images. It is also true that pictures have become less ‘valuable’ than they used to be. The overuse of photography has devalued each and every photograph for the simple fact that we are taking pictures of just everything! I do not necessarily have an issue with this, but all in all people have become a bit picture crazy! I am guilty of this myself.


  5. I think that it is awesome that you went out and researched other photographers. Snapchat is sometimes a great thing, but others it is not. I believe your point in saying that we have become a visual generation. If you try to explain something to someone they have no clue what you a re talking about. I think that this is due to technology. It is so easy to have a conversation with someone via texting and snap chats, but we cannot have in-contact or spoken communication, but our written communication seems to be strong. People should definitely be more appreciative of photos and keep in mind Rowse’s 5 elements of composition in a photograph instead of just snap chatting their sushi.


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