Pioneers of Photography: An Animated History

What was photography before film and photographic paper? Before shutters and adjustable apertures? The pioneers of the medium had to experiment and invent. They had to build their own precision equipment and mix reactive chemicals. In this video collection, explore the intrepid personalities who toiled in the dark to bring the nascent art of photography to light.

Journey through the 1800s, where William Henry Fox Talbot first explores the capture of images through light, and Carleton Watkins uses his mammoth-plate camera to photograph landscapes. Then watch as Julia Margaret Cameron defies established techniques to give her images their signature ethereal quality. Witness the precursor to cinematic animation through Eadweard Muybridge’s inventive methods, and finally, enter the 20th century to watch as Man Ray pushes the limits of photography by breaking all the rules.

Sun pictures: Henry Fox Talbot and the first photographs

The invention of the photograph, in 1839, would forever change the way people looked at the world. But this extraordinary breakthrough cannot be credited to a single individual—while William Henry Fox Talbot labored quietly in England, Louis Daguerre toiled separately in France, with the announcements of their discoveries coming weeks apart. Learn about the unusual pursuit that led Talbot to his crucial innovation.

Peaks and perils: The life of Carleton Watkins

In the 1860s Carleton Watkins loaded a team of mules with his mammoth-plate camera and glass negatives and ventured into Yosemite Valley. The pictures he made there helped lay the foundation for American landscape photography, before the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 destroyed much of his life’s work. Delve into the extraordinary tale of an artist nearly obliterated from history.

Pictures from a glass house: Julia Margaret Cameron’s portraits

Julia Margaret Cameron took up the camera at the age of forty-eight, converting a chicken coop into a photo studio and enlisting friends to pose as figures from myths and legends. Critics of the time were openly hostile to her unorthodox methods, yet she persevered. Learn the story behind Cameron’s otherworldly portraits.

Slices of time: Eadweard Muybridge’s cinematic legacy

Eadweard Muybridge is remembered today for his pioneering photographic studies of motion, which ultimately led to the development of cinema. He was hired to photograph a horse’s movement to prove that a horse’s hooves are clear of the ground at a trot. Afterwards, Muybridge invented the zoopraxiscope to show his still images in rapid sequence, a technique that laid the foundation for the creation of motion pictures.

“Crimes against photography”: Man Ray and the “rayograph”

Man Ray began making photographs in the 1920s, in the midst of the Dada movement. Through an accident in the darkroom, he soon discovered a new means of creating photos without a camera. Meet the artist who committed “crimes against chemistry and photography,” as he described it, and produced some of the most memorable and iconic pictures of his time.

Looking for more videos with artists? Check out SFMOMA on YouTube.


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