Research Compiled by Angela L MSSPI Case & Research Manager
In the 19th century, Archeologist Austin Laynard made archeological findings that suggested that African, Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures were aware of optical phenomena and were using them for other purposes by the year 3000 BC.
Greek scholars had begun to study and theorize optical phenomena by the year 300 BC. They studied light, vision, color and astronomical phenomena. It was the beginning of scientific optics.
Archimedes, a Sicilian mathematician, studied reflection and refraction, but his works were destroyed when Syracuse fell to the Romans.
Seneca, a tutor and favored friend of Roman Emperor Nero, noted the magnifying effects of liquids in transparent vessels. Nero is reported to have used a smooth emerald lens to better observe gladiators in combat. The idea for the camera obscura, the ancestor of the camera, most likely originated in early Greece.
Arabian scholar Alhazan, a.k.a. Abu Ali Hasan Ibn al-Haitham, conducted the first serious study of lenses in Basra (Iraq). He studied refraction in lenses, disproving Ptolemy's law of refraction, and also carried out research on reflections from spherical and parabolic mirrors. His writings were the first to explain vision correctly, as a phenomenon of light coming into the eye, rather than the eye emitting light rays.
The Chinese are perhaps the first to use optical lenses and the first documented case of a corrective lens occurs around 100AD.
Documented in the 'Shih Chi' and 'Chhien Han Shu' of the Han period (ch.28, p24) [Trans., Chavannes, vol.3, p470] is the shadow play by the magician called Shao Ong who made the spirit (it would appear) of a dead concubine appear to the Emperor Wu Ti. This sort of shadowful illusion was repeated many times throughout Chinese culture and all of Asia. These puppets were made of paper-thin cutouts and were called Shadowplays, and later known as Shades. Also heaped in Chinese culture are the many instances documented where images of landscapes are seen upon frozen surfaces. Rivers, lakes and basins have numerous times been reported to "hold" the scenes of nature.
Shadowplays, or Shades as they were known, came in all shapes and sizes. Although shadows were cast upon walls or behind thin screens, some puppets were actually meant for direct viewing, Usually made from dried animal skins or primitive paper and then painted, Shades were found in many cultures including China, Turkey and Greece. The first Roman shadow plays are written by poet and naturalist Lucretius around 65 BC.
Chinese scientist Ting Huan discovered the apparent movement seen through convection currents of hot air generated by a lamp around 180 AD, and Greek physicist Galen begins studying binocular vision during the same period.
Arabian alchemist Gerber observed the darkening effect of bright light on silver nitrate around 750 AD. During the next two hundred years, both Arab and Chinese scientists observe eclipses using the camera obscura effect. In the 10th century, Yu Chao Lung built miniature pagodas designed to observe pinhole images projected onto a screen, demonstrating the divergence of light rays after passing through the pinhole.
During the early years of the second millennium, Arabic science proliferated, especially with regards to research in astronomy, optics, and vision. The Chinese investigations of optics also flourished for a time as they experimented with lenses, mirrors, and shadows, but stagnated after the 1200s.
In medieval Europe, scholars strictly adhered to the teachings of the ancient Greek philosophers, particularly Aristotle, as well as those of the Church. Science was viewed as a process that required only observation of the natural world interpreted by rational thought and correct theology. Experimentation was not considered essential to understanding how the world works.
The Greek notion that the eyes transmit light rays was finally discarded and the eyes were correctly understood to be light receivers. The first truly functional magnifying lenses were produced in the 1200s, and by the 1400s lenses were being used to make reading glasses. The Chinese had developed eyeglasses with colored lenses even earlier, but these apparently were used for ornamental purposes, rather than vision correction. By 1600, high quality lenses were being produced and used to make the first microscopes and telescopes.
Other notable contributions to Optical Study were Bernard of Gordon, a French physician, who in the 1300's wrote in a volume of his medical series Lilium Medicinae about the use of spectacles as a means of correcting far-sightedness--the first written record of lenses being used to correct vision.
The seventeenth century brought astronomical changes to the world of science and optics, literally and figuratively. The invention of the telescope and microscope in the 1590s triggered enormous interest in exploring previously unobservable realms. The observations made from those explorations would transform human understanding of the world and the universe.
Throughout the previous centuries, the Church had been intricately involved with scientific studies, but towards the end of this century, scientists began to separate themselves from the Church hierarchy. Scientists developed their own organizations to discuss and evaluate their work and the sciences began to function as organized disciplines. The foundations of physics, chemistry, and biology were established and, most importantly, scientists were finally able to conduct their studies unimpeded by church or state.
In 1704, Newton published Opticks, a consolidation of his writings and experiments on light, color, and optics and an exposition on his corpuscular theory of light. A masterpiece of experimental physics, this book not only elaborated on his previous work in optics, but showed how to use experiments to explore a subject. He explained how hypotheses could be used to prompt more experiments until enough information had been gathered to formally propose a theory. Opticks would serve as a model for the investigation of heat, light, electricity, magnetism, and chemistry well into the 1800s.
An auspicious discovery in this century was the relationship between lightning and electricity, as demonstrated by Benjamin Franklin's famous kite-flying experiment in 1752. This and other experiments convinced Franklin that all materials possessed some kind of electrical "fluid." In England, William Watson independently came to the same conclusion. Studies like these set the stage for nineteenth century investigations into the nature of light, electricity, and magnetism and the discovery that light is an electromagnetic phenomenon.
James Clerk Maxwell was one of the greatest scientists of the nineteenth century. He is best known for the formulation of the theory of electromagnetism and in making the connection between light and electromagnetic waves.Much of modern technology has been developed from the basic principles of electromagnetism formulated by Maxwell. The field of electronics, including the telephone, radio, television, and radar, stem from his discoveries and formulations. While Maxwell relied heavily on previous discoveries about electricity and magnetism, he also made a significant leap in unifying the theories of magnetism, electricity, and light. His revolutionary work lead to the development of quantum physics in the early 1900's and to Einstein's theory of relativity.
Photography as a medium grew out of scientific experimentation in optics and chemistry. The earliest photographic images were made by placing objects (such as plants or fossils) onto light sensitive paper and then exposing the paper to the sun. William Henry Fox Talbot produced the first examples of these, and later Louis J.M. Daguerre experimented with similar images before going on to develop the "daguerreotype," the forerunner of the modern photograph.
In partnership, Niépce (in Chalon-sur-Saône) and Louis Daguerre (in Paris) refined the existing silver process. In 1833 Niépce died of a stroke, leaving his notes to Daguerre.
American company Kodak presented its first camera, which held a twenty-foot roll of paper, in 1888. It improved upon the camera by making a transition from paper to film. It continued with the marketing of developments that included the first thirty-five-millimeter SLR camera named Exacta. Another development was the Kodachrome, the first color film that utilized a subtractive method to generate an image. Professional photographers and movie makers liked Kodachrome for its high quality color images. Kodachrome was eventually discontinued because the public preferred digital technology.
As their popularity grew, some publications contained inflated claims about x-rays — they could restore vision to the blind, they could raise the dead.
From the first X-rays, scientists began using photography for more objectively measurable purposes. It could be argued that after so much public debate about the different famous spirit photographers, the public was ready to engage in advancements that could actually be documented. Experimental research about the human body became a viable way to make measurable progress. Even though the casualties of war tempted many to want to believe in the ability to communicate with spirits, people eventually understood that the best use of resources was to apply it to something much less controversial and linear. Just as spirit photography sought to photograph parts of the body unseen by the naked eye, many technologies that developed later extended this idea. Modern day ultrasounds, MRIs, and X-rays all date back to spirit photographs.
Photography has a rich history that progressed through the Industrial Revolution. People developed methods to simplify the use of the camera with digital technology, which made it a household item.
The transition to digital began with important advancements in technology during the 1960s. For instance, the space program National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, used analog, photography that utilizes chemical film technology. They made the switch to digital images to show images of the moon's surface. Space probes, computerized spacecrafts, were programmed with digital technology. NASA sending digital images of the moon marked a large scale acceptance that digital images were convenient and reliable.
Computer Imaging software such as Photoshop have contributed to the controversy, making it very hard for researchers who attempt to prove the validity of possible spirit photos, to present evidence. Even if the spirits of the dead are capable of being photographed, current technology makes it easy to recreate ghostly images, therefore making all spirit photography presented, to be called into question as having been tampered with or manipulated. Recent additions of Iphone photo applications for manipulating spirit photos, only adds to the skepticism.
Source Material and Reference Links:
Michael W. Davidson and The Florida State University Optical Microscopy at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. Time Line of Optical History
NYU Dept of Media, Culture and Communication: Spirit Photography http://cultureandcommunication.org/deadmedia/index.php/Spirit_Photography
Firenze, Paul. "Spirit Photography: How Early Spiritualists Tried to Save Religion by Using Science." Skeptic. Vol 11 No 2. 2004: 70-78.
Victorian Spirit Photography: Spiritualism and New Technology Met in Widespread Fraud http://americanhistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/victorian-spirit-photography#ixzz0v9WoFpzw
Alhazen (965-1039) Book of Optics." orientpix.com/blog/
Boone, Ronnie. "History of Photography." www.ronnieboone.com/history.asp
The History of Digital Photography by Theresa Meeker Associated Press- http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5470510/the_history_of_digital_photography.html?cat=15
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution
http://jori.cgsociety.org/gallery/339068/ Photo of Pharos of Alexandria
Photo of Plato : http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/WeirdWildWeb/courses/wphil/lectures/wphil_theme02.html
http://museumvictoria.com.au/scidiscovery/image_pages/mn001436.asp?url=/scidiscovery/scientists/aristotle.asp Aristotle. detail from the "School of Athens" by Raphael.
http://zebu.uoregon.edu/2003/hum399/lec05.html Ptolemy photo
http://www.precinemahistory.net/900.htm Shao Ong
http://www.precinemahistory.net/900.htm The History of The Discovery of Cinematography
http://www.biographicon.com/view/v6ge8 Robert Grosseteste
http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/bacon/index.htm Roger Bacon