The Invention of Photography, or Light as Muse


The ancient Greeks thought light came from the eye itself, put there as fire--along with earth, air, and water--by Aphrodite. The eye, in other words, was like the flashlight on the back of your iPhone or the flash on your camera--only for some reason, it didn't work at night. Later, the Roman poet Lucretius would say that light was made up of atoms racing through space in the direction determined by whatever gave them a shove, like minuscule billiard balls--an idea that took a while to catch on. Later still, in the Middle Ages, what you believed about light and darkness, as reflections of what you believed about good and evil, could get you burned at the stake (long story having to do with Manichaeism). Even today it might get you a cold shoulder (as opposed to a hot auto-de-fey), at least from postmodernists, who eschew such binary oppositions. The history of light isn't all dark, though. Centuries before Lucretius, on the other side of the world, the Chinese discovered that light focused through a pinhole into a dark room created an inverted image of what was on the other side of the pinhole (which is roughly how the eye works). Project that image onto a light-sensitive medium and you get a photograph, but it would take a couple of millennia to figure out
                                                   wave entwined particle
                                            equals light    darkens silver chloride
                                                                            stills
                                                       its bounce of
                                  particle curve of
                                                         wave      entwines eye      brain
                                         & image, image &
                                                                   image-making

 Photo by Barb Toyama

Photo by Barb Toyama

 Towards The Light - Photo by Jennifer Kapala

Towards The Light - Photo by Jennifer Kapala

 Photo by Willy Wilson

Photo by Willy Wilson