In a hundred fifty years, the photographic apparatus has barely changed shape.
The camera remains a box with a hole in it.
But this box has been busy. Nearly every surface, every display, every inch of public space is covered in photographic imagery, some of it moving. Even our trash is littered with it. Photographic imagery covers the world in the Sherwin Williams sense. It’s no surprise, then, in a lifetime of consuming and producing that we find photographic imagery instantly understandable, totally persuasive, and most seductively, representative of the world existing outside the box.
But familiarity breeds contempt. What does a camera leave out? Where does a camera simplify? Are your flower pictures just a garden path?
One of the many answers is technical. The design of the camera constrains its output. The constraints are manifold. The first cameras couldn’t even focus. But what are current cameras lacking? Ask Gabriel Lippmann, Nobel Laureate and inventor of color film:
The current most perfect photographic print only shows one aspect of reality; it reduces to a single image fixed on a plane, similar to a drawing or a hand-drawn painting. The direct view of reality offers, as we know, infinitely more variety. We see objects in space, in their true size, and with depth, not in a plane. Furthermore, their aspect changes with the location of the observer; the different layers of the view move with respect to one another; the perspective gets modified, the hidden parts do not stay the same; and finally, if the beholder looks at the exterior world through a window, he has the freedom to see the various parts of a landscape successively framed by the opening, and as a result, different objects appear to him successively. Epreuves Reversibles. Photographies Integrales,1908 (courtesy Todor Georgiev, Original translation of the 1908 article from French by Frédo Durand)
Lippmann made first mention of this fact: Cameras record only partial spatio-angular information about the world. The camera as we know it integrates angular information across each pixel. The remarkable thing is, he built a prototype camera that not only captured angular information (in other words, the direction of an incoming ray of light), but re-presented it on a piece of film.
Which is a subject for a later, more substantive post. Just setting the stage here — Welcome to FuturePicture.