Camera Obscura: The ancestor of photography

Camera Obscura: The ancestor of photography

camera obscura - photography history

The Camera Obscura

At the time of the Renaissance, Italian painters began to discover the laws of perspective. To simplify the layout of their landscape, they use optical devices that can project an image on a surface of a landscape or an object.
The camera Obscura, also called black chamber is an optical instrument which provides a projection of the light onto a flat surface, that is to say to obtain a two-dimensional view very similar to human vision. Painters used it before the discovery of methods for attaching the image onto a surface until the invention of photography.
The camera Obscura is the ancestor of the modern camera. The darkroom was not a new invention at the time of Della Porta. Aristotle (384 – 322 BC. BC) had observed the principle that it would work. Alhazen, a tenth-century Arab scholar described the process as well as Leonardo da Vinci in his famous notebooks in the fifteenth century. In the sixteenth century, the sharpness of the image was improved with the introduction of the lens. Many artists have also used this accessory in order to make a more accurate view of the scale. However, despite repeated attempts, it was not until the nineteenth century that one was able to obtain a permanent image.

The camera Obscura was used by many artists, including Giambattista della Porta, Vermeer, and Guardi Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto), who used to put his famous canals of Venice landscapes into perspective.


Anecdote: Giambattista della Porta’s Camera Obscura

At a reception organized by the Italian physicist Giambattista della Porta, guests were frightened by seeing a picture on the wall with small figures moving upside down. Panicked, they rushed out of the room. Della Porta was accused of witchcraft. However he just wanted to entertain his guests by introducing them to a camera Obscura that is to say the darkroom in Latin. This can produce a dramatic effect, although its principle of operation is simple. When light enters through a tiny hole in a box or a dark room, a mirror image is reversed and projected onto the opposite wall. What the guests of Della Porta had seen was nothing more than the actors who played in the next room.

If you want to know more about the photography history, here are some very good books:

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