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Et nos non invenimus ita - Abu Ali Al-hasan Ibn Alhasen, 1021
In allowing these cameras to he exhibited I hope to encourage some demystification of the "technology" which obfuscates the manufacture and workings of modern cameras for the purpose of elevated prices and profits.
The camera is a tool in the production of images, just as film and paper are, and a change in a lens or camera body effects the aesthetics of an image.
Yet most artists will not touch their camera equipment for modification (or even for repair), nor build their own black boxes, because of a fear of the "costly mishap" -- a fear instilled by ads and textbooks, which constantIy suggest that the construction ad operation of a camera is dependent on a highly evolved technology totally beyond tbe comprehension of a layman.
But in actuality cameras and lenses date from the 13th century, and the principles of their operation can he summed up a the back of a envelope. In building a modifying this equipment I have not used any knowledge which could not he found in highschool texts on geometry and physics. I am, perhaps, reasonably handy with a hacksaw -- but so are many others.
* * * * * * * *
This equipment was built over a period of 13 years; most were built to conform to some ideas ahout an image or series of images I wanted to produce. Two pieces were built for commercial research applications, and a few were constructed in attempts to recapture or test some aesthetic of the 19th century.
Jno Cook, 1989
Homer's Illiad (ca. 800 B.C.), Book 19, lines 12 - 16, tells of the delivery of Achilleus' new armour.
The war had gone very badly for the Greeks since Achilleus had refused to participate. An offensive by the Trojans had breached the camp's stockade and fighting had reached the ships.
Patroklos, wearing Achilleus' armour, had joined the battle but has been slain. His body has been returned, but the armour was stipped by the Trojans. Achilleus, now resolved to again join the fight with his troops, cannot do so for his armour is lost.
Thetis has new armour fashioned by Hephaistos, smith to the Gods. She delivers it as Achilleus and his troops are mourning Patroklos.
The following records the first instance of high-tech equipment delivered for War use. The reaction of the Myrmidons -- to armour made in heaven -- is archetypal for what will continue to be the reception to high-tech equipment for the next 3000 years: they are afraid.
The goddess spoke so,
and set down the armour
on the ground before Achilleus
and all its elaborations clashed loudly.
Trembling took hold of the Myrmidons.
None had the courage to look straight at it.
They were afraid of it.
Only Achilleus looked
It is the same reaction invoked with the warning imprinted on the backs of the plastic cases to radios and other equipment, and implied in textbooks and magazine descriptions of cameras and lenses:
Risk of shock hazard.
Do not remove case.
No user serviceable parts inside.
Refer servicing to qualified personnel only.
However, a look at book 18 of the Illiad reveals what the armour is made
of: it is gold, and silver nails, and bronze, and tin rivets - nothing
beyond the normal capabilities of late bronze age technology.
Until Hakim died in 1021, Alhazen spent his time at the library of Alexandria, writing on geometry, optics, perspective and the camera obscura. Translated into Latin in 1270 and printed as Opticae Thesaurus Alhazani in 1572. MSS at Paris, Oxford, Leyden.
An additional MS at the Vatican Library is annotated by Lorenzo Ghiberti of the Florence Baptistry doors (1378 - 1455). Earlier MSS may have existed, for Roger Bacon writes a optics and the camera obscura before 1266.
Alhazen is the first to show how an image is forned on the eye, using the
camera obscura as an analog. Alhazen states (in the Latin translation), and
with respect to the camera obscura, "
Et nos non inventimus ita," we did not invent this.
The reflex box camera (using a mirror to invert the image) is described in Oculus Artificialis Teledioptricus, 1658 by Johann Zann, as well as the use of a telephoto lens (Galilean). This was used also by Kepler in 1600 - 1610 ( Dioptrice, 1611). The telephoto lens design has not changed to today.
A Camera Obscura designed for viewing (and drawing) is described by Robert Boyle in On the Systematic or Cosmical Qualities of Things (1670), which includes a focussing front, a lens, and viewing back. Robert Hooke describes the opaque projector in Pilosophical Transactions 1668.
By the beginning of the 18th century the viewing camera obscura was
commercially for sale in London (see John Harris,
Lexicon Technicum, 1704), known at the time as "Scioptricks," after
the lens which was known as a "scioptric ball."
Euclid's Optics (ca 300 BC), presupposes the camera obscura as a demonstration that light travels in straight lines. Egnacio Danti in commentary on his translation of Euclid's Optica (1573), adds a description of the camera obscura.
By this time knowledge of the camera obscura is already firmly established in Italy, with the availability of Giovanni Battista della Porta's Magica Naturalis (1558), based on earlier books (Cesare Caesariano's translation and commentary to Vitruvius's Architecture (1521), Francesco Maurolico's Theorameta de Lumine et Umbra (1521), Erasamus Reinholt in commentary in translation of Plubach's Theoricae Novae Planatarum 1542, and others).
Porta's second edition of Magia Naturalis (1591) includes a lens for the camera. This had been suggested earlier by Bacon, and was in use by others in the 16th century.
Porta popularized the camera obscura, which was instantly in use with
astronomers: Kepler, solar observations, 1600, including the transit of
Mercury in 1606; Fabricius, sunspots, 1611. Kepler coined the term "camera
A paris optician who provides Louis Daguerre with a stopped achromatic lens about 1839 or earlier as a step up in quality from the stopped Wollaston. Chevalier also made lenses for Joseph Nicéphore Niépse since about 1826. Photography was announced by Daguerre and Niépse (fils) in l839, the Daguerreotype.
In 1829 correspondence between the partners, Daguerre writes, "there
should be found some way of getting a large profit out of the invention
By this means we represent the world as rectilinear, planks maintain the same spacing with distance, walls meet at right angles, and verticals do not converge.
This is the method of representing what is thought to be seen (rather
than experienced) initiated with Renaissance painters.
Writes Vasari, "in 1451 when the very useful method of printing books was invented by Giovanni Gutenberg, Battista devised something similar, namely, an enlarging and diminishing machine."
Vasari quotes from other written sources, however, and omits what the machinery does. In Rerun Italicarum Scriptores (Muratori, 1738), book 25, the description is of a camera obscura or diorama.
Alternately, it might be the screened device illustrated by Albert
Dürer, used for drawing (after 1505). This was after Dürer's
visits to Italy "to learn the secret art of perspective." It is the camera
obscura in obverse or turned inside-out.
Available in Greek to the ancient world; translated to Latin in 500 (Bothëus, and with new translations from Arabic in 1120 and 1180. Printed texts available in Renaissance Italy in 1482, 1486, 1491, 1494, and 1505.
The 14th EB notes, "Euclid eschewed all practical applications of
"Nearly all the technical processes of any real importance in the manufacture of glass were already mastered in antiquity" (14th EB).
Glass occurs in Egypt and Babylonia in 2600 BC, bottles were made 14th - 15th century BC, and large scale production in Egypt dates from the 6th century BC.
Glass blowing is discovered at Sidon in the first century and clear glass is made at Alexandria at about the same time. In Roman times glassworks are established in Italy, Spain, and the Rineland.
In the 13th century Venice again discovers how to make clear glass and
established a virtual monopoly. Workmen in the glassworks were prohibited
from leaving Venice under pain of death. They did anyway.
The first wide-angle lens, and without distortion, if used at f:35. Designed and sold by C. Harrison and J. Schnitzer of New York, 1857.
This lens becomes the standard for stereo photography. where absolute
versimilitude is the requisite (great depth of field, distortionless, wide
angle). Of every stereo card I have ever seen (and millions were made
between 1865 and 1910) not has allowed the verticals to converge even though
this would be relatively easy with this lens -- it has a coverage of 72
degrees, equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm camara.
body: Bell and Howel Co. 2oo foot 35mm magazine for A-6A camera (USAF),
sn AFS54 200 486, modified; AC gearmotor, indent, MS, relay for single frame
operation, sync contacts, lens housing, no shutter, mount for two DX strobe
tubes, cooling fans, front feet, mounting board. lens: Taylor Cooke Cinema
Lens 47mm f:2.5, sn 135528
Porta uses the term
pilae vitreae to designate the cylinders of glass from which sections
are sliced with a diamond cutter. and are sent from Germany to Venice for
polishing. This is the term (hollow balls, filled with water) used by Pliny
to describe magnifiers in antiquity.
Second largest river in the world, the mainstay of agricultural Egypt, which it has flooded about August each year since earliest antiquity. The Nile is 4000 miles long, at inundation it moves 400,000 gallons of water per second, at about Aswan it is 1600 feet wide.
The Aswan Dam was completed in 1902, 900 years after Alhazen's proposal
to tame the river.
body: 100 foot 35mm capacity Graflex ID camera, modified; chain drive
motor, duplex outlet, lamp sockets, 9" reflectors, FCT lamps, commutating
circuit board; 3 rpm rotating base, wiring, slit shutter, lens board, dark
slide. lens: Perfex anastigmat f:3.5 50mm, sn 51381, lens shade, 85 filter.
Ptolemy develops the theory of (atmospheric) refraction; the book is translated to Latin by ceratin Admiral Eugenius Siculus in the 12th century.
Ptolemy's other work includes a star map of 1018 stars, works on
astronomy, geography, spherical geometry, and the first tables of sines. His
works were in great demand in Europe for navigational purposes.
The lens lacked definition at the edges, which was no hindrance for portait use, which use, at any rate, remained the primary task of photography for all of the 19th century. The design was bought by Voightlander and Son, who made millions of these lenses during the next 60 years, at first complete with a camera which looked like a cannon.
Petzval made nothing from his venture, died poor, and with the complaint
that it took him a year of calculations to come up with the design. He
contributed to optical theory the principal that the sum of the reciprocals
of the product of the refractive index and focal length of individual
elements should be zero.
But Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378 - 1455) knew, as shown in his work on the bapistry doors, his annotation of Alhazen's MS on optics, and the last part of his Commentarii (ca. 1450). Also Pierro Della Francesca (1418 - 1492), who painted, studied math, and wrote on geometry and perspective, De Prospectiva Pingendi, ca. 1487, devised says Vasari, "using knowledge of Euclid."
All the early Renaissance solutions to perspective come from Euclid, once it is understood how an image enters the eye and how in the opposite direction the same set of converging lines determines perspective
Alhazen showed that, not Euclid, even though Euclid's
Elements had been the standard text on geometry since 300 BC.
Technology is neutral, of course, and war industry is only interested in
profit. Another story of this event has it that the B&L Company sells
the lens design to the Zeiss Company during the war.
This understanding has been lost; the camera is a symbol of how vision is understood today: light enters a dark chamber and is trapped.
One story is that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam were responsible for this change: : a jealous God reduces man to a receptacle -- even prohibits image making in the Decalogue to avoid temptation.
Another story has it that the Geometry developed by the Academy, and codified by Euclid, explained, eventually, that images look at us, not we at them.
This concept will close be periods of iconoclasm for the East by the 9th
century; Gregory has decided for the West in be 6th century, "It is one
thing to worship a picture, and another to learn from the language of a
picture..." Implementation as a cannonical policy would await the Council of
These lenses covered a little over 20 degrees - equivalent to a 100 mm
lens on a 35 mm camera - and therefore required a landscape to back away
from as a subject, a well as the full sunlight of outdoors. The Wolleston
lens is still in use today on almost all box cameras, covereing (today) a
field of 40 to 50 degrees.