Week 1. What was the invention of photography?

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Meeting Details

Tuesday October 6

Morning seminar 11am, Portland

Afternoon seminar 1pm, Portland 1.24

Preparation for this week You should post one or more questions about the readings or images in the space provided below. Please put your name in brackets as shown in the example, after your question(s). I will print off the questions 30 minutes before seminar begins.


What was the invention of photography? Not when was it, or who invented it, but what on earth was the phenomenon that caused photography to be invented? What did it look like physically? How did it work chemically? These are not the questions that have traditionally driven photographic histories, so finding the answers requires some digging. It also requires a certain amount of imagination on your part, because many of these experiments no longer exist. Even the merest implication of finding early photographic material usually almost inevitably leads to a storm in a teacup, see the Amateur Photographer. In the morning you will have a short lecture on the subject and we will discuss the readings and the interpretations of those readings.

Required Reading and Looking

Primary Source Material



Some Account of the Art of Photogenic Drawing. Talbot wrote several versions of the introduction to his new art, or photogenic drawing as he called it. They have become known under the title Some Account of the Art of Photogenic Drawing, or, The Process by Which Natural Objects May Be Made to Delineate Themselves without the Aid of the Artist's Pencil which was the title of the account Talbot read to the Royal Society on January 30, 1839. That text is reprinted in Beaumont Newhall, Essays and Images (New York: ,) pp. 23-31. It was also printed privately in 1839 by R. and J.E. Taylor.

Secondary Source Material

Larry Schaaf, Out of the Shadows (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992) Prelude and Chapters 1 and 2, pp.xi, xii and 1-74. Grant Romer, 'Daguerre in the Library' in Imagining Paradise: The Richard and Ronay Menschel LIbrary and the George Eastman House, Rochester (Goettingen:Steidl, 2007) pp. 27-33.

Nicephore Niepce

Hippolyte Bayard


These books are also an interesting read, if you have time and are interested. Many more images can be found online at the George Eastman House, Getty and HRHRC, and some collections can be found on flickr.

Larry Schaaf, William Henry Fox Talbot (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).

Michel Frizot, A New History of Photography (Paris:Larousse-Bordas, 1994), Images from Chapter 2.

Questions for Seminar

What is an origin story? (Kelley)

Afternoon Seminar

In this seminar Roger Watson will introduce you to daguerreotypes. You will handle them, take them apart, discuss their structure, their social function, and their physical condition. In the course of the seminar you will fill out a condition report on a daguerreotype of your choosing.

Further Reading

Stephen Bann, Parallel Lines: printmakers, painters, and photographers in nineteenth-century France (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001)

Anne McCauley, Arago, l’invention de la photographie et le politique, Études Photographiques, no.2 May 1997, pp. 6-43


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