Camera lenses

Through the looking glass: the birth of analogue photography and animation.

Steffen Wright (opens in new window) (Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision)

Capturing a moment in time in a still frame has long been something humanity has tried to do, from cave drawings to digital photography. Today AI can replicate or produce digital imagery within minutes, but let's start at the beginning and take a look at some of the developments of the analogue camera before moving our gaze to more contemporary use and ideas for the future.

For some, the history of the camera takes root in ancient China and Greece: both employed simple optical devices known as the camera obscura. The camera obscura had the ability to project real-life images onto surfaces. For many years the camera obscura took different shapes and sizes and served different purposes, yet the camera would not come to capture an image in a photograph until the 19th century.

It was during the 1800s that France and Britain were in a race to be the first to develop a photograph. The French won this race by developing an image on metal, but the British were the first to succeed in developing a photograph on paper. Though both the British and French inventions were relatively successful, it wasn’t until the Americans joined in on the development of cameras that things started to drastically change.

The birth of mass photography took place in 1884 with the invention of the photographic roll. This meant that cameras could start to be mass-produced. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century, with the invention of the portable camera, that the wider populace started to take notice, and the camera became more common.

Since this time there have been many developments within analogue cameras, such as the advent of SLRs. But the instant camera, giving anyone the ability to be in any location and develop an image almost immediately, was a huge step for the average consumer.

Analogue animation: Motion in immobility

During this time there were those who thought to expand the features of analogue cameras with the goal to do more than simply take still images. Animation was one of these features: with analogue cameras, you needed to go through the demanding process of capturing minuscule movement picture by picture. Ranging from making hand-drawn images move, to stop motion clay figures, to eventually the invention of the movie camera, animation has taken many shapes and sizes. Check out the following video for an insight into the process:

Analogue photography: The materialism of a moment in time.

In our current age of digital photography, there are still those who yearn for a time when analogue photography was still the only option. Dana Lixenberg (who you can see at work in the video below) is a professional who has only ever worked with analogue photography. One of the challenges facing analogue photographers today is that the materials that make these cameras and camera rolls are getting harder to find and are more scarcely produced every year.

How will analogue photography come to take shape in the future? Scarcity often leads to increasing costs of materials. Will 'outdated' analogue photography become a mere hobbyist pastime for the wealthy, pushing artists further to the sidelines of their own profession, or will there potentially be a renaissance, a renewed interest of sorts that will bring it back to the masses? Whatever the answer may be, it is going to be interesting to see where analogue photography goes from here.

This blog was written as part of the CRAFTED project, which aimed to enrich and promote traditional and contemporary crafts.