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Etymologically, the word “photography” is a complex one and originates from the Greek words “light” (φως) and „writing“ (γραφη). With the term “photography” we generally refer to the process of the creation of visual images through the register and survey of light, using appropriate instruments, such as cameras. We refer to the art and science of the creation of visual images, by using appropriate devices such as cameras and others.
Gary Winogrand, American well-known photographer and teacher of photography, gave a definition for the term photography: “…the illusion of a detailed description of space and time”.
It is a fact that photography exposes with specific detail what it represents. It is also a fact that with photography we can expose only a fraction of what we actually see, since all four sides of our frame limits us as such. This represents a conflict between the critics of photography, namely if photography exposes reality or not.
The truth is that as soon as all four sides excise this piece of reality, the resulting picture ceases to have any relation with reality. The photograph becomes objective and abstract. This is exactly where photography’s greatest challenge lies.
Images are symbolic surfaces. Most often images symbolize something „out there“ and their goal is to allow us to imagine reducing the four dimensions of space-time into the two dimensions of a surface. This characteristic to reduce elements from space-time „out there“ and display this reduction again “out there” could be called “imagination“ and constitutes a requirement of producing and interpreting images. In other words, the coding of icons into 2-dimensional symbols, as well as the deciphering of these icons.
The significance – meaning – of these images appears to lie on their own surface. It could be recognized with one look. This meaning however is only superficial. If we wish to assign some depth into this meaning, we must allow our visualization to wonder on this surface and thus to reconstruct the dimensions that have been removed. This wondering of our eyes on the surface of an image is called „scanning“. The journey that our eyes take while they are scanning an image is complex, because it depends on the image‘s structure, as well as our own intentions during our observation. Therefore, the meaning of the image, while it is being revealed through scanning, is the blending of two intentions: one that is emitted by the image itself and the second originating from the observer themselves. Consequently, images don’t represent single-meaning aggregates of symbols as numbers do, but they represent multi-meaning aggregates of symbols: images offer room for interpretation.
While our vision wonders on the surface of the image, one element yields the next: a chronological order is established between these elements. Our vision could return to some element that we have already seen, thus transforming the „before“ to the „after“. The time dimension that is reconstructed with the scanning process is this of an effortless return. Our vision establishes significant relations between the elements of an image. It could return again and again to the same element of the image, thus establishing this element as the centerpiece of the meaning of this image. Therefore, in the area that is being reconstructed due to scanning, significant relationships are being formed. A framework is being developed where one element gives meaning to other elements and at the same time this element recruits meaning from other elements. This space-time of an image is nothing more than the realm of magic, a world in which everything repeats itself and everything participates in a meaningful frame. The interpretation of the images must take into consideration their magical character.
Light constitutes the „raw material “for the formation of a photographic image. It is the energy that is emanated in the form of electromagnetic radiation from every self-light-emanating source. (sun, stars, bulbs, candles, etc.). All other objects – non-self-light emanating objects, receive the bright radiation (from the self-light-emanating objects), part of which they absorb, while they reflect the rest.
The electromagnetic radiation can be observed by the human vision at the range of 400 to 700nm. This visual spectrum is called the visible light spectrum. In this visual spectrum we have sequentially (from shorter to wider frequencies) the following colors: violet, blue, green, yellow and red.
An object owes its color, due to this property of absorbing a part of the radiation and reflect radiation of specific frequency, For example, a red object absorbs the entire radiation, while it is reflecting radiation that humans perceive as red color. Black objects absorb all radiation and reflect nothing back, in contrast to white objects that reflect all their radiation back to the environment, which put together represent the white color.
Bright rays are reflected towards all directions. In order to comprehend (i.e. to register) what we actually see, we must in some way put in order this „chaos“ of the reflected rays that come to us from various objects. This is the job of the eye, and more specifically the eye’s lens, which gathers the bright rays and send them – now in order – to the sensory organs of the eye, which in turn communicate with our brain. In simplified terms, this is how we have the visual conceptualization of everything surrounding us.
The camera lens substitutes the role of the eye lens. The camera lens is responsible for this weeding out of light rays that are emitted by various objects around us. It concentrates the light rays that will eventually form the image of the object we are capturing with the camera.
The camera lens forms the image of the object we are capturing when we take a picture and this is exposed in a special light-sensitive surface, which is sensitive to light rays, it reacts to bright rays and it forms the image of the pictured object.
Before the discovery of photography, lenses were of use to painters. They represented the image in some semi-transparent paper, so the painters could draw around the object on the piece of paper, in order to create a pre-image outline of the actual image.
The invention of photography was based on the combination of two distinct visual observations. The first was that when light enters a dark room or box through a small hole, it will create an inverse image on the wall in front of the hole. The second observation was that certain chemical reactions are sensitive to light. From the moment these two observations were put together, we can then speak of the invention of photography.
Around 350BC, Aristotle describes the way the simplest camera could work. Later, in the 11the century AD, the Arab scientist Alchazen describes the same phenomenon. The first who described the phenomenon of the dark chamber, in other words the phenomenon of exposure of the image onto some steady point, was Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the famous and multifaceted genius of the Renaissance.
The first pictures were basically simple display of images over some surface. The dark chamber, the first “camera”, also known as Camera Obscura, starts to be used as a means of mechanical reproduction of an image.
The artist of the era, would sit inside the dark chamber and would copy the inverted image he saw onto a piece of paper or onto some other material he had placed on the wall.
Camera Obscura remained to be used as a means of photography, until the beginning of the 19th century, more refined, in smaller size and most of the times compact and mobile. The technological advancements after the Camera Obscura, led to smaller and lighter cameras.
The simple version of Camera Obscura could not retain the images of the objects. The next big bet was the retention of the images following a specific chemical reaction.
Around the 16th century Georgius Fabricius observed and noted the process by which silver chloride darkens when exposed to light. By 1550, there was already an improvement made on camera obscura, whereby a concave lens had been inserted in the hole where light enters the camera. This improvement was done by Girolamo Gardano.
In 1558 Giovanni delta Porta is probably the first to propose the use of a respective mobile device to painters in order for them to draw portraits and landscapes.
In 1568 Daniello Barbaro further conceived a type of diaphragm that allowed the zooming of the image , while in 1636, Daniel Schwenter invented a system of multiple lenses, of different zooming distances, progenitor of the modern zoom. We can say that the photographic method of the 16th century functions on the same principles as the modern cameras.
In 1727, Johann Heinrich Schulze, professor at Altdorf and Halle Universities, observed that while he was executing an unrelated experiment, the mixture of Aqua Regia (solution of one part nitric acid with four parts hydrochloric acid) and chalk, in which some quantity of silver had been added to it, acquired a reddish color when exposed to sunlight. He was also successful in achieving the imprint of light on a paper treated with silver salts, although he could not manage the fixture of the image.
These observations, along with those of other younger researchers, remained unexploited until the start of the 19th century. At that time the Englishmen Humphry Davy and Thomas Wedgwood, based on Schulze’s discovery, managed to print the first pictures of leaves and of other semi-transparent objects, when they came into contact with the semi-sensitive material. These first pictures were named photograms (φωτογραμματα). This term is still used today to rather describe the outline of various objects that are formed directly on the photographic paper, without the use of negatives.
The main difficulty Davy and Wedgwood experienced was that the couldn’t “fix” and preserve the image, which after a while disappeared.
The first successfully completed attempt in photography was made by the Frenchman Joseph Nicephore Niepce (1765-1833). Niepce saw early on that photography was a means to support printing, when he tried to find a way to copy various shapes onto lithographic plates. The first pictures, around 1816, were negatives from paper coated with silver chloride, simply laid out, that were developed in nitric acid. His first picture however, which is still exists today and is considered the beginning of photography, took place in 1826. The said picture showed his laboratory’s window and the roofs of the neighboring houses of the city he was born. For the acquisition of this picture, Niepce had to leave the lens of his camera on for 8 hours!
The submission of photography, as a new invention, was done by the Frenchman Louis Daguerre (1787-1851), who worked as a painter.
In 1829, Niepce embarks on a collaboration with Daguerre in the topic of photography, which seizes upon the former’s death in 1833.
Daguerre continues his experiments by himself, to eventually arrive in the famous photographic method that also took his name “Daguerrotypy” (Δαγγεροτυπια). According to this method, the plate was made out of metal and was coated with silver. In order to make the plate sensitive to light, he would bathe it in nitric acid and would place it on a container that produced iodine gas. In this way, a layer of silver iodine was formed on the plate.
In order to take a picture, Daguerre had to develop his plate for several hours under the sunlight, since the coating was not highly sensitive. Later on however, he managed to reduce the developing time with the help of a complementary method.
In 1838, Daguerre persuaded the French scientist and politician Francois Aragon to propose his invention to the Paris Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts. Indeed, this proposal was accepted by the Academy on 19 August 1839, date which is considered by most as the official beginning of photography. This new form of art dominated Europe immediately and everyone wanted to be photographed. It is estimated that that in 1839, only in Paris, there were over 100,000 “Dageuerrotypies” Δαγγεροτυπιες. The Daguerre method was not only complicated, but also posed disadvantages, with most significant one the inability of reprinting additional photographs, since there was no negative and the “positive” photograph was the result.
It was The Englishman Talbot’s turn to adopt the correct meaning of photography and make it accessible to everyone. William Fox Talbot (1800-1877) experimented almost simultaneously with Talbot, from 1835 until about 1839 and creates “negative” photographs on paper, of which he prints the “positives”. This method of photography was named “Talbotypy” (Ταλμποτυπια) and it was for many years prevalent in England. Because of the fact that this method is used in a perfected way, until today many consider Talbot as the “father of photography”.
In 1839 the Englishman Herschel suggests as a method of fixturing the photographs the “υποσουφλιτ“, which is used to this day.
In 1848, Niepce’s nephew discovers the use of negative from glass, in other words, the glass plate. This discovery resulted in the reduction of exposure time of the photograph to light, to only a few seconds. In 1851 the method of liquid colloid, which was perfected by the Englishman Frederick Scott Archer replaced Daguerrotypy (Δαγγεροτυπια). According to this new method, an explosive substance, nitrocellulose, dissolved in alcohol and ether and once dry, it created a thin surface, known as colloid. Archer would pour liquid mixture of colloid and iodine on to a glass plate, which he previously had bathed in a solution of silver nitrate. After the pretreatment that had to take place in the dark, the still-moist plate (thus its name) was placed inside the camera and following its exposure to light, it was developed in a solution πυρογαλολης and nitric acid.
Once we are referring to those who offered their services to the technological evolution of photography, we should mention here an artistic and historic pioneer of photography, the American photographer Matthew Brady (1823-1896), the man who was one of the first to comprehend the immense capabilities of photography in the fields of history and media. Brady is considered as the first photo journalist because he witnessed and photographed most occasions of the American civil war. For his picture taking, he used the complicated method of liquid colloid mentioned earlier. Brady’s photographs are considered today as documents “of reality” and can be found in many museums in America. The next significant discovery was the invention of the dry plate from gel around 1878.
During this period in the United States, George Eastman emerges as a manufacturer of photographic products. His name is barely known around the globe, even today. However, we can all recognize the name “Kodak”, Eastman’s company. His contribution to photography was very big, since his first paper film for negative plates circulated in the market in 1884. He also circulated the Kodak camera in 1888, the first of a wide range of cameras in circulation to this day. A few years later, Eastman presents the first photographic film with transparent base. This film, which resembled today’s films, could easily be developed by an amateur photographer at home, without the use of complicated laboratories, used up to that day. At the same time photographic films were advancing, cameras were also evolving, thus reducing their volume and weight and perfecting their lenses.
By the start of the 20th century, photography without compromising its own evolution, becomes simplified and frees itself from its initial weaknesses. People can now spend more time with the creative and synthetic side of photography, freed up from the technical problems of the past.
During the 1930s and 1940s photographic films also changed. The color films for the creation of “positive” slides (διαφανειες) appeared in 1935, while the colored negatives appeared in 1942. The mobile light devices improved from flash to powder, to flash with lamps and then to electronic flash, completed by Harold Edyerton of MIT in 1938.
In 1947, the concept of the Polaroid photograph by Edwin Land, gave photography a new dimension. A positive picture could be achieved instantaneously, after the picture was taken. The laboring of the picture constituted the chemical transfer of the lit silver haloid from the negative leaf of paper to a second leaf of paper, in which the crystals were reduced to silver, thus forming the positive image. Polaroid’s colored film came into circulation in 1963.
From the 1970s, photographers saw what everyone else also saw: that planet earth has finite sources of raw materials. The price of gold skyrocketed, followed by increases in the price of silver. The price of material for photography, which depended on silver, doubled in a period of just a few weeks. Photographers started to collect used-up silver from photography labs.
A new development in the field took place in 1987, with Kodak’s “one-use” camera. The customer would buy the camera containing only one roll of film. Because the camera is sealed, the customer must return the whole camera once all the pictures had been taken. All this happened in the middle of what is called the electronic revolution. Even old-school companies are now using the new digital technology.
– 16th century: camera obscura. A dark room or box, one side of which there is a very small hole for light to pass through. The sun rays travel in a straight line and as a result of this, the image is juxtaposed inverted (uspside-down and left-to-right)in the opposite side.
Today, it has been replaced by the pin hole camera, in other words, a closed black and transparent box, one side of which we have opened a hole with the necessary minimal diameter, so light can pass through. Opposite of this side, the image that is projected is a bit fuzzy and rather darkened, so it can be recorded onto a light-sensitive material.
1550: A double concave lens has been inserted into the entrance hole where the light passes through. This was done by Girolamo Gardano.
1568: A diaphragm that allows the zooming was introduced by Daniello Barbaro.
1573: Danti used a bent lens to elevate the image.
1636: Daniel Schwenter invents an array of lenses of differing zooming distances, progenitor of the modern zoom mechanism.
1676: Johann Christoph Sturm added a mirror in front of the lens, bent in a 45 degree angle, thus creating the first reflex camera in the world.
1727: The Englishman Thomas Wedgewood prints the first pictures using plant leaves in contact with light-sensitive material from silver. These pictures were named photograms (φωτογραμματα).
1816: Niepce takes the first experimental pictures of objects without a camera. They are not stable, as he cannot stabilize them.
1826: Niepce is the first who manages to imprint and maintain pictures directly to positive with the help of sunlight. The first picture even taken needed exposure time of 8 hours. His method was named “ηλιογραφια”. From early on, Daguerre has mail correspondence with Niepce and evolves his method that resulted in the fabulous “Daguerrotypies” (Δαγγεροτυπιες).
1829: Niepce and Daguerre sign a collaboration contract and begin to notify each other of their progress in photography.
1833: In England, there is still a restless mathematician, Talbot, who has the same ideas with Daguerre and Niepce, but ignores their accomplishments. He also manages to take negative pictures on paper and to stabilize them as well. He discovered the negative film and also managed to reproduce pictures in many copies. His invention, which was originally named “καλοτυπια” and later “ταλμποτυπια“, lacked significantly in quality compared to “ταλμποτυπια“.
1839: It is the year in which photography is publicized in France. The Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Fine Arts officially recognizes Daguerre’s method, who received all the enthusiasm of the French public, while Niepce’s name had been totally eliminated and forgotten.
1847: The first photographic plate is being introduced, which was the first negative film on glass. The presentation takes place in the French Academy of Sciences by Abel Niepce, cousin of the pioneer Niepce. In the beginning, he did not receive the acclaim he deserved from the French photographers, because the material he used was fragile and heavy. For the retention of the light-sensitive coating the white part of the egg was used. The same year the method of “καλοτυπια“ is being perfected.
1848: The Englishman, Hersel uses “υποσουλφιτ“ for the staging of photographs. The terms “negative”, “positive” and “photograph” are assigned to him.
1856: The first series of aerial photographs from air balloon are taken. Nadar manages to take 70 photographs in total.
1868: The method of color printing with reducing tri-color is used. Ducos dy Hauron and Gross arrived at this method by different means.
1879: The first glass plates of industrial use are introduced by Eastman.
1888: The first film from the American company Eastman goes into circulation. The same year George Eastman presents the first Kodak camera with roll film. This model renders cameras as accessible to the public. Celluloid is arguably the most significant milestone reached by photography.
1889: The first anastigmatic lens goes into circulation by Zeiss’s factory. The first film that can be inserted into camera in broad daylight also goes into circulation.
1924: The first Leica camera appears in Germany. It is a camera whose quality and its small size gave the most certainty and freedom of movement to the photographer.
1930: First attempts to achieve digital photography by Philo Taylor Farnsworth and Vladimir Kosma Zoworykin.
1940: Photography is introduced by the Museum of Contemporary Art in New York.
1947: Kodak’s first color positive film (slide) Ektachrome, goes into circulation.
1948: The first Polaroid goes into circulation. Magnum, the best-known photo-news agency in the world is founded.
1959: The first pictures of Earth from satellite are taken.
1972: The first camera with CCD sensor is manufactured by Bell Systems and is used in television.
1997: The first digital photographs of planet Mars from satellite.
2000: The first digital camera with a 3million pixel sensor provides noteworthy photographs with dimensions of 13×18 cm. This camera becomes the first significant competitor of compact with film, since it covers large number of amateur photographers’ requirements, as far as the size of the pictures is concerned.