Pleasures of light

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 • World’s first photo This rudimentary ‘photograph’ was captured by Joseph Nicephore Niepce in 1826; Photo: Shalini Rai

World’s first photo This rudimentary ‘photograph’ was captured by Joseph Nicephore Niepce in 1826;
Photo: Shalini Rai

What must have played on the mind of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce when he captured the world’s first ‘permanent photograph’ from nature in 1826 in an idyllic French setting? Was he looking to preserve for posterity the glory of incomparable scenic beauty or was it merely a scientific process that he was working on perfecting?

That’s the question that photography enthusiasts still grapple with, nearly 200 years after the world’s first photograph was captured in a rudimentary camera by Niépce. Do we ‘employ’ photographic technology to give a mediocre photograph a facelift or do we capture, untarnished and unvarnished, the beauteous vistas of this planet and keep technical and technological intervention to a minimal?

Going by the proliferation in the range and variety of digital photography options and the commercialisation of the medium of photography, one would think the age of film cameras and the laborious process of developing film is long past.

• In a new light A panoramic sunset in Delhi after a dust storm
In a new light A panoramic sunset in Delhi after a dust storm;
Photo: Shalini Rai

Yet, the capital city is home to the Delhi Photography Club, whose convener says that the club gives its members a reason to step out of their homes and click. According to Virendra Singh Shekhawat, the convener of the club, interest in photography has only shot up over the years. “We have all kinds of enthusiasts — from beginners to hobbyists and serious amateurs. Photography is an ongoing, regular process, and our members have motivation to pursue their hobby with discipline and commitment,” says Shekhawat.

Going by the reportedly stratospheric sales of personal camera equipment, money seems to be no constraint in this pursuit of photographic perfection. While high-end point and- shoot cameras cost in the range of Rs. 12,000 to Rs. 15,000, DSLR cameras are priced at Rs. 20,000 upwards.

• Old school An 1839 Giroux dageurreotype camera
Old school An 1839 Giroux dageurreotype camera

“I currently own a small camera but I’m looking to move to a bigger, more advanced one. Apart from the technical options this new camera will give me, its appeal lies in the handling of such a proficient machine,” says Sumit Sinha, a businessman, who dabbles in photography whenever he gets time off from work. “Money is not really a constraint. It is about exploring the new techniques and getting better at the medium, more than anything else,” he adds.

The relentless quest for amelioration is what had scripted Niépce’s success story. In 1813, the craze for the newly invented art of lithography swept France and soon attracted Niépce’s attention. His trials with lithography led to what Niépce later termed heliography and resulted in the earliest known surviving photograph ‘made’ in a camera.

In September 1827, Niépce travelled to England to visit his ailing brother. While there, he was introduced to the noted botanist, Francis Bauer, who recognised the importance of Niépce’s discovery and encouraged him to write about his invention. Bauer provided him with introductions to present his paper and heliographs to the Royal Society while he was in England. These specimens — which were all referred to by Niépce as ‘Les premiers resultats obtenus spontanement par l’action de la lumiere’ (the first results obtained spontaneously by the action of light) — were rejected and returned to Niépce.

Old school A 19th century studio camera with bellows for focus
Old school A 19th century studio camera with bellows for focus

Upon his return to Le Gras, Niépce continued his experiments. In 1829, he agreed to a 10-year partnership with Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. Niépce continued to experiment with heliography, dreaming of recognition and economic success, until his death in 1833. However, in 1839, Daguerre’s photographic invention, the daguerreotype, became a commercial success, overshadowing Niépce’s heliograph.

But the wonder of taking that image — now universally acknowledged and acclaimed for its pioneering value of being a ‘first’ — may never have left Niépce.

The temptations of the flash A 1939 Argus camera
The temptations of the flash A 1939 Argus camera

And that’s where the ceaseless appeal of the medium, or more accurately, the art of photography lies — in witnessing wonder, capturing it, wholly and in essence and then seeing it work its magic. What better affirmation, what greater acknowledgment, what truer pride in one’s work and vision?

This magic of the medium is visible in the works of both serious amateur photographers and amateur photographers. For these lensmen, the pleasure of the flash remains pure and unadulterated.

The temptations of the flash A 1961 Polaroid camera
The temptations of the flash A 1961 Polaroid camera

Like former Indian Navy officer Avanish Dureha does, each time his family travels. “To me, photography is a great way of bonding. When I first picked up the camera, seriously, sometime in the late 1980s, it was an expensive hobby. Now, on account of the accessibility of digital photography and the ready feedback on social media platforms, it’s also a lot about getting much-needed encouragement for one’s forays into the field,” says Dureha, who now works as Consulting Director, SAP India.

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