A short history of heliography - Zach Porter

In 1826 Nicephore Niepce produced the oldest known example of an image recorded onto a light sensitive surface in France with a material called asphaltum. In 1839 Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre perfected a photographic process using silver halide coated copper plates, fumed over iodine crystals, exposed for several minutes in a clunky camera and then processed out using a hot mercury bath. It sounds real easy, yes, but certainly not as easy as using your new camera phone that fits inside the hip pocket. You photo enthusiasts, you passive dabblers who fancy yourselves virtuosos, you've got it made. Taking just one photo used to be an all-day ordeal for our beloved pioneers of what Sir John Herschel dubbed photography (or heliography if you prefer the Greek root).

Soccer moms, imagine getting your kid to hold that dramatic pose for upwards of 15 minutes, not to mention preparing that hot mercury developer bath at 60 degrees centigrade. Imagine utilizing your entire Ford Excursion for a portable darkroom to prepare and develop collodion wet plates at the soccer field like the photographers during our own Civil War. The only Confederate or Union soldiers who could hold still long enough for Alexander Gardner's battlefield photos were already dead. Not to mention that if you fudge a shot it's back to the makeshift SUV darkroom to coat yourself another collodion wet plate.

Today you don't have to worry about wasting film once you switch to digital photography. Those of you who use one 12 exposure roll of film for a birthday, a graduation and a wedding and still have room for the holidays have some major problems. Don't mistake visual inarticulateness for economic frugality. Move around the room at the next family gathering and see if you can capture a better moment, a more interesting juxtaposition of time and place. Once you purchase a digital camera and a flash card you can take as many pictures as you need to find your photographic voice without dropping a dime.

So it's clear that the "press me stupid" is a cinch to use these days and that producing high quality pictures from a home computer is becoming ever easier for the middle class family. However, many people are capable of speaking but not a lot of them have something to say. Likewise, in order to take good pictures one needs a visual vocabulary to articulate an emotion, an expression or simply a description of a place, not with the spoken word but with perceptive visual imagery.

Go forth and take as many pictures as you like, but have an opinion, a goal, some subtle message to convey. Even if the image is to hang on the bathroom wall for the amusement of your immediate family, give them something to reflect upon for those five minutes of daily introspection.

Zach Porter is a photographer for the News Daily and can be reached at zporter@news-daily.com.