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Posts Tagged ‘camera obscura

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”*…


A New Orleans levee, lit from above [source]

400,000 years ago, humans and Neanderthals discovered fire. This ignited a relationship between people and photons that changed the course of mankind—and continues to evolve to this day…

* Martin Luther King, Jr.


As we remove our sunglasses, we might spare a thought for Roger Bacon; he died on this date in 1292.  A philosopher and Franciscan friar, Bacon was one of the first to propose mathematics and experimentation as appropriate methods of science.  Working in mathematics, astronomy, physics, alchemy, and languages, he was particularly impactful in optics: he elucidated the principles of refraction, reflection, and spherical aberration, and described spectacles, which soon thereafter came into use. He developed many mathematical results concerning lenses, proposed mechanically propelled ships, carriages, and flying machines, and used a camera obscura to observe eclipses of the Sun.  And he was the first European give a detailed description of the process of making gunpowder.

He began his career at Oxford, then lectured for a time at Paris, where his skills as a pedagogue earned him the title Doctor Mirabilis, or “wonderful teacher.”  He stopped teaching when he became a Franciscan.  But his scientific work continued, despite his Order’s restrictions on activity and publication, as Bacon enjoyed the protection and patronage of Pope Clement…  until, on Clement’s death, he was placed under house arrest in Oxford, where he continued his studies, but was unable to publish and communicate with fellow investigators.

Statue of Roger Bacon in the Oxford University Museum





Written by LW

June 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

First Takes…

The very first photograph was taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, who aimed a camera obscura, which held a polished pewter plate coated with bitumen of Judea (an asphalt derivative of petroleum), out the window of the upper-story workroom at his Saint-Loup-de-Varennes country house, Le Gras. After a day-long exposure, the plate was removed and the latent image of the view from the window was rendered visible by washing it with a mixture of oil of lavender and white petroleum, which dissolved away the parts of the bitumen which had not been hardened by light. The result was this permanent direct positive picture– a one-of-a-kind photograph on pewter:

(For more on Niépce and the story of his pioneering accomplishment, visit the source of this photo, the site of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.)

But in many ways as interesting as the first photo of anything is the first photo of a specific thing.  OObject has curated a collection of a dozen of the most interesting “firsts,” from the first photo of a human face

Self portrait of Robert Cornelius, 1839

… to the first photo on the web

Les Horribles Cernettes (LHC... pun intended*), a band at CERN (where Tim Berners-Lee "created" the web), 1992

More– from the first photo of the whole earth and the first x-ray to the first color photo and the first picture of the surface of another planet– at OObject.

As we say “cheese,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1935 that George Gershwin signed his name to the completed orchestral score of the opera Porgy and Bess. The composer considered the 700-page work his masterpiece; many critics agree, considering this first American opera to be the finest American opera.

From the title page of the manuscript score (source: Library of Congress)


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