From its beginning chemical photography has been dealing with long exposure. Although the first permanent photoetching was an image produced in 1822 by the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce, it was only in 1838 that Louis Daguerre (the inventor of the Diorama together with Charles Marie Bouton in 1823) took the first ever photo of a person when, while taking a daguerreotype of a Paris street, a pedestrian stopped for a shoe shine, long enough to be captured by the long exposure (several minutes). This page deals with the development of the concept of photography of movement, showing how each photographer collaborated with new methods and ideas finding ways to freeze reality.
The oldest heliographic engraving known in the world. It is a reproduction of a 17th century Flemish engraving, showing a man leading a horse. It was made by the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833) in 1825, with an heliography technical process.
Taken in 1838 by artist and chemist Louis Daguerre (1787-1851), this picture of a boulevard gives the impression of empty streets, because with long exposures moving objects would not register.
However, there was an exception when a man stopped to have his shoes shined, (see bottom left of the larger picture) and though he and the person shining the shoes remain anonymous, they may have the distinction of being the first people ever to have been photographed.
In 1872, Leland Stanford, former governor of California and horse enthusiast, hired the English photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) to provide photographic proof that a running horse had all four hooves off the ground.
Setting a course with cameras whose shutters released via tripwire, he photographed the horse as it galloped past each camera, and organized the photos in order on the edges of a drum-like cylinder, called a zoetrope. When spun, the zoetrope’s images imitate moving film.
The images of the horse caused astonishment in the public, as no one had seen such precise documentation of the movement of the animal. Muybridge was subsequently commissioned to photograph a variety of other moving subjects.
In 1878, french photographer Albert Londe (1858–1917) was hired as a medical photographer by neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. Londe used a camera with nine lenses and intricate timing system to study the physical and muscular movements of patients. Over time Londe refined this system to be able to take a sequence of twelve pictures in as little as a tenth of a second
Physicist Étienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) began using Chronophotography to more closely study movement, flight, and exercise. He soon discovered that by overlapping celluloid prints on top of one another, he was able to see phases of movement and study their relations to each other in a single frame.
Anschütz, Ottomar (1846-1907), was a German photographer and inventor. The son of a decorative painter, Anschütz learned photography from Franz Hanfstaengl and others in Munich before returning to Lissa in Poznań (today Lescnow, Poland) in 1868 to establish a studio. In 1882 he developed a practical focal-plane shutter, often taking long series of pictures that recorded a complete activity in a manner usually identified with the 35 mm photographers of the mid-20th century. Memorable pictures of storks established his European reputation, and from 1885 he made multiple-plate chronophotographs of up to 24 sequential images of horses and riders, later also of other animals and gymnasts.
Demeny, Georges (1850-1917), was a French physiologist, physical educationalist, chronophotographer, and film pioneer. He was the long-time collaborator of Étienne-Jules Marey from 1882 in Paris, devising many of their experiments in movement and often serving as their photographic subject.
Ernst Kohlrausch (1850-1923) in Hanover used series photographs from 1890 in the training of gymnasts, ultimately building two cameras and two projectors for both the analysis and reconstitution of athletic movements.
Londe, Albert (1858-1917), was one of the leading French medical photographers of the 19th century. From 1882 to 1903 he worked at the Salpêtrière Clinic in Paris under its director Jean-Martin Charcot, creating the photographs of female patients that served as evidence for the Salpêtrière doctors' specific theory of hysteria. In fact, however, they were wholly staged representations in which doctor, patient, and photographer all collaborated. Londe also revived the photographically illustrated journal Iconographie de la Salpêtrière; in 1893 developed a twelve-lens camera that could take a rapid succession of pictures; and in 1895 constructed an ultra-high-speed shutter. Also that year he introduced X-rays into French medical photography. With Paul Richer he worked on the photography of movement.
In 1914 Frank Gilbreth (1868-1924), along with his wife Lillian Moller Gilbreth, used small lights and the open shutter of a camera to track the motion of manufacturing and clerical workers. The Gilbreth’s did not create the photographs as an artistic endeavor; they instead were studying what they called “work simplification”. The Gilbreth’s were working on developing ways to increase employee output and simplify their jobs. While they were not using light painting as an artistic medium they did produce the first known light painting photographs.
Marey’s camera was the forerunner of the motion picture camera. A high-speed version of his camera was devised by his last assistant, Lucien Bull (1876-1972) , to photograph projectiles such as this bullet piercing a soap bubble.
Anton Giulio Bragaglia ( 1890 – 1960) was a pioneer in Italian Futurist photography and Futurist cinema. A versatile and intellectual artist with wide interests, he wrote about film, theatre, and dance.
The first artist to explore the technique of light painting was Man Ray (1890-1976), born Emmanuel Radnitzky. Man Ray was best known for his avant-garde photography. He worked in several different media, and thought of himself as a painter above all else. Man Ray’s contribution to light painting photography came in his series “Space Writing”. In 1935 Man Ray set up a camera to produce a self-portrait. He opened the shutter of his camera and used a small penlight to create a series of swirls and lines in the air. Random circles and swirls are all these photographs were thought to be until in 2009, a photographer by the name of Ellen Carey, held a mirror up to the work and discovered the seemingly random light drawing was actually Man Ray’s signature.
Gjon Mili (1904-1984) was born in Albania and came to the United States in 1923. Gjon was trained as an engineer and was a self-taught photographer. In the mid 1930’s Mili, working with Harold Eugene Edgerton from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), pioneered photoflash photography. Gjon used stroboscopic light to capture the motion of everything from dancers to jugglers in a single exposure. His photoflash techniques are still very much used today in light painting photography. Mili used this technique to study the motion of dancers, musicians, and figure skaters. Mili’s creation of photoflash photography work was just his first gift to the light painting world. In the 1940’s Gjon attached small lights to the boots of ice skaters he then opened the shutter of his camera and created what would be the inspiration for some of the most famous light painting images ever created.In 1949, while on assignment for Life Magazine, Gjon Mili was sent to photograph Pablo Picasso at his home in the South of France. While there Mili showed Picasso some of his light painting photographs of the figure skaters. Pablo was immediately inspired, Picasso took a penlight and began to draw in the air. Mili set up his camera and captured the images. This brief meeting yielded what would become known as Pablo Picasso’s Light Drawings. Of all of these Drawing the most famous is known as “Picasso Draws a Centaur”.
In 1943 Jack Delano (1914-1997) an American photographer, for the Farm Security Administration used a slow shutter light painting technique to capture the motion of railroad workers and railroad cars while snapping photographs of the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad.