Technologies of visual culture in 19th century

“Photographing verbs, not nouns!”

The name Eadweard Muybridge is widely accepted to be the name of the first man to make ‘film’. He used a series of photographs, lined up and timed by string, to win a bet that when a horse runs, at some point; all four legs are off the ground. He won his bet.

Although he was not the most respected man and was the subject of great disbelief after his first ‘film’ in 1878. He did go on to test more and try to perfect his films. The point is that before him there were many people; that we know of, there is more likely more, who experimented with what photography could do.

Henry Talbot came up with ‘photogenic drawings’ or photo grams in 1839-40, as he perfected the method to ‘fix’ them. Etienne Robertson and Paul de Philipstial were renowned for Phantasmagoria shows in 1797 and 1801 respectively.

  1. Benjamin in 1970, wrote “The work of art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, commenting “Lithography enabled graphic art to illustrate everyday life, and it began to keep pace with painting.” As painting, particularly oil painting was the prime method of creating images. That is until; wood cuts, etchings and engravings became fashion in the 1700’s, Such as William Hogarth’s “Rake’s Progress” in 1735. Only upgraded to lithography in 1796.

There were others who experimented with ‘film’ such as, Etienne Jules Marcy who experimented with a photographic gun; which could ‘shoot’ images one after another quickly. The main area of study was heart beats, respiration and blood pressure, by recording a graphic trace for the tiny body vibrations in the skin: although the results were all on one plate, rather than Muybridge’s many.

“A photograph of a flying pelican” was made in 1882 and is believed to have led to the direction of realistic moving pictures, as a illusion of movements that mimic realistic movements.

This exploded the art world; the technological advances ruined the business of painting. Why spend hours painting a realistic image of a flower, when you can take a picture of it in a few minutes?

The most notable and well-known response to film advancements is Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude descending a staircase” in 1912, and Pablo Picasso “Girl with a mandolin” in 1910. Whilst cubism and other perceptual art welcomed the changes in technology as it was an area of new ideas spilling out like food for the starved, the impressionists took as the time to experiment with light, colour and all the qualities of print that photography couldn’t quite match. Like Claude Monet’s “Roven Cathedral” in 1894.

It was John Berger who said “The invention of the camera changed the way men saw. The visible came to mean something different to them. This was immediately reflected in printing.” In “The ways of seeing” published in 1972: Which saw in the half tone printing, and colour.

The ability to easily, or at least more easy than before, reproduce one, intensified the status of the ‘original’ as it commanded a high retail price. Mainly because the gallery was a space of over-valued objects with excluded the ‘ordinary’ people due to money and class, until suddenly anyone could own a copy.


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