Experimentation in Photography

In 1825, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, a noted inventor, who also designed the world’s first combustion engine, experimented with a camera obscura (a box with a hole in one side, in which external light passes through the hole and is reproduced upside down onto a surface, creating an image, sort of a precursor to the pinhole camera), and created what is believed to be the world’s first known photographic image: View from the Window at Le Gras.

Primarily an image of a courtyard that is illuminated on both sides, due to the lengthy exposure time, the overall image is grainy and looks nothing like the photography we are familiar with. In fact, the image resembles a charcoal drawing; a far cry from a photograph.

This crude image of a courtyard spearheaded the photographic revolution, quite different from what we know today. Without a lens, or film for that matter,it took Niépce 8 hours to create this first photographic image; something that takes a fraction of the time with today’s digital cameras.

Niépce didn’t study at a photography school (they didn’t exist at the time), and while there were other experiments prior to his 1825 photograph, this particular image stands out as does such artistic inventions as the first motion picture, the first use of color photography, and so on.

Niépce’s creation set the standard, a revolution to be exact, for photographic experimentation. As experiments in photography advanced throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, photographers continued to use ‘old school’ devices (pinhole cameras, for example) to create photographic art so that in a sense, the old techniques have never really gone out of style.

As a student in photography school, I used black and white 35mm film with a Minolta 7s still camera from the 60s, which despite taking it all over the world and dropping it a few times, remains incredibly durable, they just don’t make them like that anymore. I was able to concentrate on compositions more than utilizing techniques as dodging and burning.

Most photography schools allow for experimentation. As a student, I had free sessions where you could spend the entire day in the photo lab. A teacher’s assistant would walk you through the whole procedure of developing the film, taking out your negatives and then making prints on an enlarger, and placing the photographic paper in fixer and stop bath prior to drying the completed prints. While more interested in actual compositions, my negatives tended to be scratched and my photos more faded than anything else. No real explanation for this, just the frame of mind I was in at the time.

Analog photography is more of an art form, something you learn in photography schools. This rather arduous procedure was fulfilling, because it allowed for creativity to explore what was possible within the photographic realm. You experiment with different f-stops and different film speeds. Sometimes the end result would be disappointing; especially when something you set up didn’t come out the way you expected, too dark, too overexposed, or you left the lens cap on!