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Teaching History of Photography in the Online Environment

For the past few years I’ve had the pleasure and challenge of teaching the history of photography in the online environment using a very sophisticated and user friendly instructional delivery program called Moodle.  Teaching online is very different than teaching in the traditional classroom environment because I don’t actually ever meet my students other than on our weekly discussion boards and the occasional Skype meeting. I have always been a history buff especially when it comes to art and photo history and that is why I love sharing my passion for art and photography with my students. Here is a little insight into some of the things we are exploring on our online course.

camera_obscura_boxCamera Obscura

Photography is still in its embryonic stage compared to other art forms like sculpture, drawing, architecture and painting. The art of painting goes back approximately 35,000 years to the cave walls in France.

Camera_obscura_box.jpg Just think about it…the concept behind the camera principle goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Aristotle and Euclid conceptualized the pinhole camera (camera obscura) in the 4th and 5th centuries BCE.
It took thousands of years later for French inventor Nicephore Niépce in 1822 to actually make the first photograph. It was the dioramist Louis Daguerre who actually developed a photographic process that was viable and could be patented by the French Government in 1839.

Photography has had an amazing and fascinating history and it took many innovative individuals to actually put all the pieces (methods and materials) together to make it a viable art form unto itself. It also had a profound impact on the direction of art, culture and politics and still does today.

Northern Baroque artists like Jan Vermeer may have used the camera obscura to enhance the realism in their paintings and the Renaissance artist and innovator Da Vinci conceptualized the first camera and made drawings of a camera obscura device in his journals.

early daguerreotype process

The first patent for a photographic device goes back to 1839 (Daguerreotype). In its short history this medium has experienced many transformations. It has tried to emulate painting in its early days and then broke away from painting to find its own identity as a medium unto itself. Click here for History of Photography Time Line.

Da Vinci Drawing

Many of the compositional and lighting techniques used in photography come out of the art of painting. Techniques of lighting and posing are directly connected to great Renaissance and Baroque painters like Da Vinci, Caravaggio and Rembrandt.

Rembrandt Lighting Rembrandt Self Portrait

Rembrandt lighting for example is used in professional portraiture to this day. Photography has evolved from being the step-child of painting to becoming a unique and dynamic art form unto itself.

digital revolution

The digital revolution has taken photography to a whole new level and made this medium the most viable and relevant (in my view) of them all as we move forward in this new century.

Most people don’t realize how photography has evolved over the years. It really has a fascinating and complex history starting with the understanding of the basic camera principle conceptualized as far back as 5th-4th Centuries B.C. by Chinese and Greek philosophers to the innovation of the camera obscura.

From there someone had to figure out how to capture an image from the camera obscura and then once it was captured on a light sensitive material make it permanent. So there is a lot more to photography and its history than initially meets the eye.

Most young people living in 2014 have no idea what it was like to make photographs with film and then have to get that film developed or develop it themselves.  Photographers took more time scrutinizing their subjects before taking the picture because they didn’t want to waste film. Now we see our images immediately on the back of our digital cameras and phones.  It changes the way we take and view pictures.

The entire process has evolved dramatically over the past 175 years. Photography used to be  very labor intensive and somewhat dangerous process due to the toxic chemicals and fumes involved.  People were fascinated with photographs back in the mid-1800’s and now photography has become an integral part of our modern lives and culture.  Just look at Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It wasn’t always that way however and the medium has evolved and reinvented itself in a variety of ways since the invention of the Daguerreotype in 1839.

In the past people were not as desensitized by visual images like we have become today due to how we are literally inundated by photographic imagery by mass media, social networks and advertising.

We have come a long way from those early days when photographers had to carry their entire darkrooms around in a horse drawn wagon. What blows me away the most  is how these early innovators (inventors) like Niepse and Daguerre came up with the correct combination of chemicals to capture these early photographs. I mean bitumen, iodine vapors, mercury fumes and salt water. I wander how they came up with these ideas. I think we take photography for granted now that we have fancy digital cameras and IPhones that take great pictures and video. Most people don’t realize what the roots and origins of photography are and how we got to this technologically advanced place in photographic history.

What I find so interesting is just how many different people over a span of centuries were investigating and conceptualizing the photographic concept that had been around since the ancient Greeks and even the 5th century BC with Chinese philosopher MO-Ti . Da Vinci took this vague camera concept and put it on paper and then eventually the camera obscura was designed and built and artists like Jan Vermeer used it to paint highly detailed and extremely realistic domestic genre paintings.

During the early 1800’s there were a variety of artists and inventors like Niepce, Fox Talbot, Bayard and Daguerre who took the first steps in taking a camera obscura and converting it to a camera and coming up with the correct combination of light sensitive materials. It took a great deal of experimentation and trail and error to for Niepce to expose the worlds first photograph that took 8 hours to expose.

Photography has not been around nearly as long as the other art forms, however it has played a powerful role in cultures and societies throughout the world since its inception. Who knows what the future holds now that we have the incredible power digital technology.

Click Here for more in-depth information on the History of Photography.

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One comment on “Teaching History of Photography in the Online Environment

  1. Patrick Keough
    October 9, 2014

    Reblogged this on Vasatransmedia.

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