The concept of photography has been speculated since 400 B.C, but it was not until Ibn Al-Haytham, an Arab scholar, became the first known person to begin to study how we view the world around us. Because of this the camera obscura was created. The way the camera obscura (Latin for dark room) works by projecting an external image through a pinhole into a dark room. Due to the pinhole, light entering the small opening created an image on the opposite wall or surface inside. However, the image would be presented inverted or upside down. By the mid- 1600s, lenses were created that were placed on the camera obscura and it became very beneficial to the artistic community; making it easier for artists to trace, draw, and paint elaborate real world images.
Jumping forward to January 7, 1839 at a speech in the French Academy of Sciences in Paris; an installation artist and chemist named Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre announced that he had perfected the technology of how to create a photographic image that not only could be large scale but reproducible as well. This invention was later known as the Daguerreotype. This new technology used a “special property of silver iodide: when exposed to light, the molecules undergo a chemical transformation that can be turned into charcoal-colored shadows and lines when later exposed to developing mercury fumes. The more intense the light, the darker the resulting silver-mercury amalgam” (Nature News, 2014). For example, when a copper sheet that is coated with silver iodide is exposed to a landscape of any kind for a long period of time, an image of that said landscape appears on the daguerreotype plate with lines and shadows of various brightness.
Due to the discovery of the daguerreotype, in the nineteenth century, scientists started to coin the term scientific photography in their works and findings. Using the daguerreotype, astronomers were the first to embrace this new technique in taking the first images of the sun and the solar eclipse in the 1840s. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, this new process of taking images became such a key tool for the scientific community that the images they were taking started to show up frequently in scientific journals. Since then the scientific role of photography has continued to grow.
Photography in the science world has been been valued as an objective technique of observation. In simplest term, scientific photography “use photo imaging techniques, such as infrared, ultraviolet or thermal imaging, to take pictures that illustrate or record scientific or medical datas” (Study, 2007). Some examples of scientific photography are chrono-photography, mircograph, underwater, x-ray, and forensic. Often times photography can gather information that the human eye is incapable to see making it instrumental in research.
One of the techniques where photography benefited science was chrono-photography. This type of photography was typically used to study the motion of objects in order to gain knowledge of the way things naturally move and interact with objects around them. Scientists were able to capture and focus on step by step movements of objects. Chrono-photography was created by Eadweard Muybridge, an English photographer, who was important for his pioneering work in the photographic studies of motion and his early work in motion picture projection. His photographs of horses running and pole vaulters jumping; became a “focus for many scientists, photographers and even astronomers intrigued by the relationships between time, space and motion in order to gain a better understanding of human perception and how we experience it” (Bronwyn,2016). This method of photography became a valuable resource to the scientific community.
Another technique pioneered for scientific photography was micro-photography, also known as micrograph or photomicrograph. This process was credited to William Henry Fox Talbot as he was the only person historically known to capture photomicrographs using a solar microscope in 1834. The solar microscope is able to illuminate “the sun’s rays as it serves to produce highly magnified images of very small objects….as the sun’s rays fall on a plane mirror, placed outside the room, they are reflected toward a condensing lens and from thence to a second lens by which they are concentrated at its focus” (Greenslade, 2006). Scientists often used this technique in order to contain and analyze extensive details of an object that no human eye could possibly see. Because of this, micro-photography was expanded through medical research, such as metallurgy, to observe minerals, and biology.
A third technique that scientists used was underwater photography. In 1856, William Thompson was the first to test how a camera can be used underwater, but it was Louis Marie Auguste Boutan in 1893, who was the first person to successfully photograph underwater while diving in the Banyuls-sur-Mer. Since then underwater photography has been a very useful tool when scientists desire to examine submerged objects such as the seafloor, lost ships, or animal life in their natural habitat. An example of this, is called photoquadrats, a ” photograph of a particular habitat within a standardized square area, or quadrat” (TSI, 2017). This tool can be useful to analyze a specific abundance of coral over time in several locations. Also, it helps to identify species without removing them from the water and observe the behavior of motile species without causing damaged to their environments.
X-rays, are another aspect of scientific photography. At the end of the nineteenth century, a German physicist, Wilhelm Röntgen, was studying the effects on how electrical currents passes through gases at low pressure. while doing this, he accidentally discovered the X-Ray. On November 8, 1895, Röntgen observed that their were certain rays that were emitted as a current passed through a discharge tube. As he continued to experiment with the discharge tube in a dark room, the result became an emission of rays that illuminated a barium platinocyanide covered screen. Once the rays hit the screen it became fluorescent. Curious of his invention, he continued his experiments by utilizing a photographic plate in order to capture an images of various objects. “He generated the very first ‘roentgenogram’ by developing the image of his wife’s hand and analyzed the variable transparency as showed by her bones, flesh and her wedding ring. Based on his subsequent research and experiments, he declared that X-ray beams are produced by the impact of cathode rays on material objects” (Explorable, 2010). Within a year of his discovery, a hospital in Glasgow opened the first radiology department and produced the first pictures of a kidney stone and a penny lodged in a child’s throat. Shortly after, an American physiologist used X-rays to trace food making its way through the digestive system.
The last techniques discussed is forensic science. This science was founded in the nineteenth century by Alphonse Bertillon as he became the first forensic photographer. Also referred to as crime scene photography, this type of photographs became records of the initial appearance of a crime scene and physical evidence. These photographs are often provided to courts for permanent records. Also these photographs not only help prosecute a crime, but also became a useful tool in observing the crime scene and finding objects one might not have seen in the physical space. Also making it easier for investigators to view the photographs again and observe the placement of objects in relation to one other around the room.
There was a major paradigm shift when photography merged with science. “The term ‘scientist’ was first used in 1834, the word ‘photography’ was introduced just five years later, and the two observational disciplines have been intertwined ever since (Heiferman, 2017). Once introduced, in the early years of photography, scientists were quick to adapt to the new medium. In fact, the late nineteenth century, photography began to appear in the first X-rays, microphotographs, and photographs of the moon and stars. This caused numerous of scientists to not only understand the inner workings of the human body, but be provided an extensive amount of knowledge of the world that the physical photograph or evidence can help teach other scientists.
As photography became such a major influence to science, it also affected society. By the the twentieth century, scientists had made a big impact using photography from Alphonse Bertillon’s first forensic photographs that pushed both criminology and eugenics to an X-ray image of DNA that was created in Rosalind Franklin’s laboratory in 1952 that changed the course of genetic research. Even to satellite images that assist in the prediction of weather conditions. Scientific photography became a “symbol of broader changes to culture and society: in the scientific photographs, technology helped to reveal and record things that could not be seen by the naked eye. The abilities of man were surpassed by those of machines” (Science, 2015). From this, Science and photography continues to reimagine each other.
In review, science and photography played a big part in not only viewing the visible world, but gaining knowledge and discoveries of previously hidden phenomena both at great distances and minuscule size.Because of this, the role of photographic art started to emerge. Because of this many of the earlier photographers did not even call themselves artists, but rather scientists, engineers, and chemists. Even Louis Daguerre and Nadar saw themselves more as inventors than artists.
The term artists were often used for painters and drawers rather than photographers. This is mainly due to the fact that a camera was mechanical. By not using hands on techniques people often thought the photographs made did not even resemble art. They even believed that the camera was the one doing all the work rather than the man operating it. Often times, people feared that if photography became an art form it would “entirely supersede the art of painting. Some people seem to think that when the process of taking photographs in colors has been perfected and made common enough, the painter will have nothing more to do”. However, by the nineteenth century, photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz and Jerry Uelsmann showed the world that through the process of compositing and manipulation, photography could become a new and exciting art form that differs from any other techniques of art from back in the nineteenth century to now.
Through micro-photography, underwater, X-ray, forensic, and chrono-photograhy; those were a few key techniques and inventions that were influenced by scientific photography. Today, scientific photography continues to enamor scientists and engineers into advancing and developing a “more powerful scientific imaging technologies, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures the magnetic fields of oxygen molecules deep inside brain tissue in order to track brain activity, and atomic force microscopy (AFM), which uses reflected laser beams to map the tiny, intricate surfaces of linked carbon atoms in nanomaterials” (Nature News, 2014). With new technology being invented and observed through scientific photography, it clearly shows how science and photography became a key moment in history throughout the twenty-first century as it continues to grow and teach new scientists across the globe.