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  • Writer's pictureTamanna Mohapatra

Through the Public eye- a very quick but fun tour down photography’s memory lane

Updated: May 8, 2018

Living in NYC definitely has its benefits and while I used to be in the group that ‘is not in love with the city’, I am slowly seeing how big city living can grow on you. Yesterday, I got the opportunity to experience one such perfect moment.  Hanging out with a friend we decided to go check out this photography exhibit (titled “Public Eye: 175 Years of Sharing Photography”) at the main branch of the NY Public Library. In and of itself this is just another of those hidden jewels in the city which I personally recommend every tourist to come and visit. Besides being free and really massive, it’s one of the most beautiful and iconic buildings in the city- both inside and outside. Check out these pictures I took and a few from online as well.

For those of us fascinated and perpetually budding photographers, this is a truly worthy and educative exhibit. It’s on till January 2016, so I recommend all interested people to spend an hour when in the neighborhood (5th ave and 42nd street).

We were also very lucky to unintentionally be on time to attend one of the day’s two free lectures on the exhibit. That’s how I was able to learn so much on the history of Photography and share the same here. So here goes a list of few photographic terms and facts learnt and expanded on through a variety of online sources…

Daguerreotype -it was introduced to us as the first publicly announced photographicprocess. To make a daguerreotype, the daguerreotypist would need chemicals, processing and a basic understanding of the workings of a camera. The concept was basically pictures on silver plates, normally kept under glass, and would appear either positive or negative, depending on the angle at which the image was viewed. (src: wikipedia).

Diorama: The same person (Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre) who introduced the world to the daguerrotype photograph also gave the world this fun technology. The Dioramaoriginated in Paris and was a theatrical experience in which viewers are put in the centre to view a landscape painting that would change its appearance both subtly and dramatically.  The entire audience would then rotate to view a second painting. Depending on the direction and intensity of the skillfully manipulated light, the scene would appear to change. (src: wikipedia).

Glass negatives-Photographic plates preceded photographic film as a capture medium in photography. The light-sensitive emulsion of silver salts was coated on a glass plate. Glass plates were far superior to film for research-quality imaging because they were extremely stable and less likely to bend or distort, especially in large-format frames for wide-field imaging. But can you imagine carrying them around whenever you wanted to take a picture. Say a thanks to Henry Fox Talbot for coming up with paper negatives. (src: wikipedia)

Paper negatives- William Henry Fox Talbot, a British scientist, is credited with creating negative prints on paper that had been made light sensitive, rather than bitumen or copper-paper. According to this BBC piece, “Fox Talbot went on to develop the three primary elements of photography: developing, fixing, and printing. By accident, he discovered that there was an image after a very short exposure. He found he could chemically develop it into a useful negative. The image on this negative was then fixed with a chemical solution. This removed the light-sensitive silver and enabled the picture to be viewed in bright light. With the negative image, Fox Talbot realized he could repeat the process of printing from the negative. He called this the ‘calotype’.  (src: BBC)

Cyanotype/Blue print: Attributed to Sir John Herschel, another British photography pioneer, cyanotype photography involved iron compounds vs. regular photographs that were set in silver (all this before digital photography took over of course!). The photograph can be taken with a camera (even digital ones), and the resulting photo turned into a negative that can be used to make a cyanotype. Images had a blue finish to it (as can be seen from the beautiful rose image below). John Herschel is also credited for being the person who coined the word Photography (literally-writing with light) [src: Alternative Photography)

Paper photography- Mathew Brady, an important figure in American photography, especially photographic documenter of the Civil War, was also one of the first photojournalists.Brady was able to produce unprecedented large-format portraits in unlimited quantities and is considered one of the fathers of modern advertising with his newspaper advertisements. (src: Cornell)

Flash Photography: In photography, flash is used to produce an artificial light to illuminate the subject or scene. The concept was first derived by Edward Sonstadt, Edward Mellor, and William Mather. It allowed photographers to become more versatile in terms of when and where they could take photos. It was revolutionary in terms of allowing the inside of buildings and after sunset pictures to be captured.  (src: Portfolio)

Eastman Kodak-Of course, no history of photography could be complete without mentioning the person who brought photography to the masses. This happened in1888 with the invention of the first handheld camera from Kodak. The founder was a high school dropout. He began his business career as a 14-year old office boy in an insurance company. The word “Kodak” was first registered as a trademark in 1888. The rest as we say is photographic history. (src: Kodak)

Photo sharing and other benefits of/from photography: A large part of the exhibit focused on the social nature of photography. For example, did you know that since the creation of Facebook, it has become one of the most photo sharing mediums with 350 million (that’s right-million) photos uploaded on a daily basis??. Incredible isn’t it. Also on exhibit was a great book that speaks to the social nature of photography. ‘Family of man’,created by Edward Steichen shows through photographs, the oneness of mankind. It was an exhibit of 503 photographs grouped thematically around subjects pertinent to all cultures, such as love, children, and death. After its initial showing at The Museum of Modern Art in 1955, the exhibition toured the world for eight years, making stops in thirty-seven countries on six continents. (src: MoMA)

Photo journalism is another great use of photography. It is basically a form of journalism that employs images in order to tell a news story. Take a look at this Time magazine’s article on 2014’s best photojournalism images. Then there is postcards, another gift from this world..who amongst us doesn’t own at least a few postcards of places visited or waiting to be visited. In fact there’s a whole book written on this topic. Take a look.

Other uses over the years include the hugely popular street photography, fashion photography, travel photography, mug shots and even the invention of motion picture. Eadweard Muybridge, a photographer and inventor took photos of moving animals in a way that had never been done before. This led to a process for capturing movement on film, laying the groundwork for the motion picture industry. (src:

I will conclude this blog piece by talking about one of my favorite photo sub categories and photos. Known as photorealism and promoted by Lewis Hine, The Spiderman Photographer, it’s basically social photography- using photographs to promote a social message. A beautiful movie I saw earlier this year that talks about another photographer (Sebastiao Salgado) from this genre is ‘Salt of the Earth’. If you find the time, do seek it out and enjoy both the photographs and the message behind it.  Till next time and till then, go take some pictures…happy clicking!

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