Research Project: History of Photography

I have been researching the impact of digital technology on the medium of photography for the final research project. In the beginning of the Photography BA course I was confronted with a very simple question, that provoked me with endless thoughts on the future of photography, and my place within the discipline. Though the greatest challenge was to give an appropriate answer, which at the time seemed impossible.
Ever since I read Fred Ritchin’s essay “After Photography”, I have been questioning what is the meaning of the changes in photography and where is this leading to. Another reason I was eager to find more theoretical approach on the subject, is my own practice for the past two years. I have been working mostly in digital, and many times exploring unconventional ways of seeing a photograph.

The nature of the computational environment, is very different from the physical space. The paper or any other physical object and the digital or binary representations are environments which facilitate photographs/images.
I realized I had to gain greater knowledge on the form of photography and media before the rise of digital technologies, and how it was perceived in the context of culture and society.

My immediate response was looking into media rather solely photography, as it has been an area of interest for about a year. I considered t approaching photography from a media theory point of view rather than art. I am not saying that they is no connection between the two, or they are two separate sides. What I wished to elicit though, was theories based on the technological evolution of the medium, rather than the photograph as a work of art.

By now I have concluded that the photographic apparatus is the element of my study, perhaps an unconscious decision, based on my personal interests on technology. I was aware that photography as practice has been around for a very long time. I set as a starting point the fully operating products, that could potentially fix light onto a surface.

Being already introduced to Marshall Mcluhan’s theories, I considered the apparatus role significant to the changes that photography causes in society. I will be discussing on a separate post, the connections between Mcluhan’s work and the photographic apparatus.

Below is short historical overview of technological advancements in the photographic apparatus starting with the concept of the Camera Obscura.

The oldest concept associated with photography is camera obscura. Camera stands for chamber or room and obscura for dark. The principal for projecting light on a vertical plane always involved the darkened chamber with a hole on one side, to let light in. This simple configuration allows for an image projected on a plane, with colour and perspective preserved, but rotated at 180 degrees.
The lens was the next new element to be added to the configuration, to allow a brighter and sharper image to be reproduced. At the time recording an image was only possible by tracing on paper. A mirror was added in between the lens and the focal plane, which helped significantly tracing by altering the direction of the light.
The earliest documented attempts to fix light on a surface, involved chemical products, like silver chloride, that reacted when exposed to light. Further experimentation led to different ingredients being used, the most successful of them being silver coated plates, treated with iodine vapor, to become light sensitive, developed in mercury vapor and fixed with sodium chloride. This process is called daguerreotype or wet plate, lending its name from its inventor, Louis Daguerre.

As you understand this is a process that takes long time, patience, skills and knowledge for a person to practice, which limited its use to the professional. Less than twenty years later the process becomes simplified with the invention of the collodion dry plates. Another twenty years later the gelatin dry plate is invented, with better image output than any process so far.

It wasn’t only the recording medium that evolved but the mechanisms within the camera. Focusing was introduced by adjusting the distance between the lens and the focal plane. The invention of the mechanical shutter dramatically changed the practical uses and aesthetics of photography, just before Kodak’s commercial breakthrough.

While in research to create a compact camera, Oskar Barnack, optical engineer and designer,
created the much now celebrated 35mm camera. The 35mm signifies the culmination of a century’s worth of research in the field of photography. Respectively, the digital camera signifies the accumulated knowledge and practice of the 35mm.

List of References:
Newhall, B. (1982) The History of Photography : From 1839 to The Present. London: Secker & Warburg

Malcolm, D. (2000) Daguerre (1787–1851) and the Invention of Photography in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, [online] available from <; [17 February 2014]

Peres, M. (2007) The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography: Digital Imaging, Theory and Applications, History, and Science. Amsterdam; London: Elsevier/Focal Press

Hand, M. (2012) Ubiquitous Photography [Digital Media And Societies Series]. Cambridge: Polity Press


Core Project: research

I visited the incinerator once again. This time though I went in the facilities and had a chance to see what is going in there. I have been watching the chimney from my window for the past three years and never went so close. I went to the reception to ask permission for photographs. I got a number and an email address. I hope I will get permission before the deadline. If not, I will continue this project after I submit, where I will have spare time.Coventry Incimerator. View from the path surrounding it. Southern Side

As the title of the post says, I did some research and found out that the Whitley Incinerator is serving the city of Coventry and the town of Solihull since 1975. Most of the rubbish produced in Coventry is burned and the rest is used as landfill. There has been a controversy over the current usage of the facilities and the new plans from City Council and Solihull.

According to the authorities a lot of the heat produced by burning the rubbish could be used in heating buildings. The project has been planned, proposed and already has a contractor for the job. Part of the controversy is who’s is getting what? Again according to the authorities, the “Heatline” project would deliver heat through underground pipes to the City Centre. Meaning that it will benefit the Council, Coventry University and the Cathedral, for starters. The energy produced by such procedures is considerably cheaper and in the long term could benefit the citizens of Coventry. For the time being, priority is given to the aforementioned entities and the commercial part of the city.

One more reason this project could be a disaster, argue the Friends of the Earth, is the amount of money it could cost to the taxpayer. They claim that the incinerator could cost more than it will be saving. Looking at the bigger picture, producing heat by burning trash is not a thing of the future, though the Council states that they don’t have the resources at the moment for high-tech waste management.

And let’s not forget the environmental impact. The plans to expand the facilities would see the end of the bio-diverse grassland around it and of course in order to make the project profitable, the incinerator would have to burn almost the double amount of tonnes per year.

A stream that passes by Coventry's incinerator. Southern side.

From my point of view, this great deal of money, about 10 million, and the binding contract of 25 years could be devastating for the city. There are many dark and forgotten corners of this city. There are enough homeless people to attract the council’s attention, and many others who struggle to make a living. What is missing from Coventry is not cheaper heating but a sense of community and celebration of the commons. There I would invest that money.


Core Project: change of idea

A couple of days ago I had an accident with the bike and I injured my shoulder. It wasn’t really serious, but it’s enough to keep me from riding the bike while carrying all the equipment… Yesterday, I even had difficulty holding a D700 in the studio. While scanning some negatives today I found out that I have many stills from the Whitley Incinerator, located near the London Road Cemetery. I checked the 15 maps and found that Map 7 does include the incinerator! Tomorrow I will load a new roll and visit again.

a field and trees, Coventry Parks Club