"The term “Photography” is now so well known, that an explanation of it is perhaps superfluous; yet, as some persons may still be unacquainted with the art, even by name, its discovery being still of very recent date, a few words may be looked for of general explanation."
H. Fox Talbot (1844)
The ability to record a permanent image is almost 200 years old. It seems strangely humbling to know that I have been taking photographs for more than a quarter of its existence and more than 90% of my own life.
Whether it is a mechanical, chemical or digital process, be it art or advertising, or whatever we perceive its purpose is not in dispute. We have learnt to grow with it and embrace it into our lives in one way or another.
"That such imperfections will occur in a first essay, must indeed be expected. At present the Art can hardly be said to have advanced beyond its infancy—at any rate, it is yet in a very early stage—and its practice is often impeded by doubts and difficulties, which, with increasing knowledge, will diminish and disappear. " H.F.T (1844)
Those at the beginning certainly were in awe of the new recordings. The detail provided was achievable by even the least skilled. One need no longer be proficient at drawing. One simply needed to point the camera in the direction of the subject, be still for a moment, and great clarity was theirs to take away and display. How it must have pleased them, excited them, fascinated them, even bewildered them. They did not need to know the science or understand the mechanics or even the aesthetics. The beauty lie in the capacity to do something they could not otherwise do.
Today, we continue to take photographs of objects with that in mind: we can do something that, without the camera, we could not otherwise do. For most of us, it is the detail and richness of the subject and the moment we wish to encompass, record and share, that is paramount in our consciousness.
But photography has developed in many ways over the centuries. Its technical aspects have surpassed the expectations of the early photographers. We have moved from chemical recording and fixing to digital processing. The camera has such high levels of technology, most need no understanding of the processes that the earlier photographers might have used. The convenience and affordability places a camera in the hands of most. The numbers of photographs taken exceeds the imagination of even those who were born into it. The proliferation of photographs has saturated our daily lives. Their influence on our thinking is profound.
Photography is now an integral part of our communication. Photographs accompany, reinforce, explain and even replace the spoken word. They enable us to express ourselves better, differently and abstractly. It is an art form as much as an artisans tool and a witness to who we are and what we do as humans.
But does any of this matter to any of us? We continue to take pictures. We continue to point and press. A few seek deeper meaning to it all. For the majority we are happy enough to rely on the camera to record what we see so we can reflect and share with others.
I am learning to see once again. I am learning to see the beauty that lies before me and then see how it looks as a photograph.
" I do not claim to have perfected an art but to have commenced one, the limits of which it is not possible at present exactly to ascertain. " H.F.T. (1844)