Photography beyond the camera – Gems from my first photography class

In my first photography class last week the teacher showed us the image above to support his speech about the history of photography.

This is a picture of camera obscura in action the way it was used back in the mid 16th century. The whole idea was use camera obscura in aid of making the drawing process easier.

Some jokes came up from colleagues around — how it would be disappointing to find out that the geniuses of painting used a such technique, it may sounds like I’ve been cheated all my life — I have to say that this fact itself made me think about art and photography more carefully. Especially after watch the documentary required for the first class – Close UP – Photographers at Work (Part 1 and Part 2), which brought a fully artistic point of view for the photography.

Life goes on during the week and I kept going with my reading evenings. This week the writings of Ernst Gombrich are dwelling my thoughts.


Over the page 403 of this lovely Phaidon publication I found a piece of text that brought me back the photograph class. Talking about the art in nineteenth century, specifically the Impressionism, Gombrich points some allies that helped people, normal people, not artists (please don’t take me wrong), to see the world with different eyes.

“One of these allies was photography. In the early days this invention had mainly been used for portraits. Very long exposures were necessary, and people who sat for their photographs had to be propped up in a rigid posture to be able to keep still so long. The development of the portable camera, and of the snapshot, began during the same years which also saw rise is Impressionist painting. The camera helped to discover the charm of the fortuitous view and of the unexpected angle. Moreover, the development of photography was bound to push artists further on their way of exploration and experiment. There was no need for painting to perform a task which a mechanical device could perform better and more cheaply… Photography in the nineteenth century was about to take over this function of pictorial art. It was a blow to the position of artists, as serious as had been the abolition of religious images by Protestantism. So it came about that artists were increasingly compelled to explore regions where photography could not follow them. In fact, modern art would hardly have become what it is without the impact of this invention.”

As not enough the fact of helping people (normal people) see the world with different eyes, the photography, related to some “Google-research”, also influenced some Impressionist artists such as Monet and Degas. The idea of movement on paintings, the immediacy of scenes and more casual frameworks are some of the obvious influences we can see on the Impressionist art.


That is such a good way to start a photography course! Fair play to Marcelo Castro (the teacher) and Ernst Gombrich.

Share Post :

Related Posts

Leave a Reply