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Photography - Early Uses Of Photography

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Many artists were threatened by the invention of photography. Immediately after photography was first displayed to the public, the painter Paul Delaroche said, "From today, painting is dead." In fact, many portrait painters realized that photography would steal their livelihood, and began to learn it. Ironically, many early photographic portraits are overly stiff and formal. With exposure times that could easily be half a minute, subjects had to be in poses in which they could remain motionless. As the chemistry of photography improved, exposure times shortened. The public appetite for photographs grew quickly. By the 1860s, portraits on cards presented when visiting someone, and stereographic photos, which used two photographs to create an illusion of three-dimensional space, were churned out by machines in large batches.

As with the camera obscura, one of the biggest initial uses of photography was to record travel and exotic scenery. Photographers lugged the cumbersome equipment used for wet collodion prints through Egypt, India, and the American West. At the time, Europeans were increasingly interested in exotic places (and were colonizing some of them), while most Americans got their first glimpses of a wilderness they would never see through photography. With more people living in cities and working in industrial settings, views of unspoiled nature were in demand.

England's Francis Frith became famous for his photographs of the Middle East in the 1850s. After the end of the Civil War in 1865, photographers like Edward Muy-bridge and Timothy O'Sullivan did the same in the American West, often emphasizing its desolate grandeur. (Muybridge's photographic studies of motion later helped lead to motion pictures.) The West was still an unexplored frontier, and often these photographers traveled as part of mapping expeditions. The pictures they took of geysers in 1871 and 1872 and brought William H. Jackson played an important role in the decision to create Yellowstone National Park, America's first national park. Some of these photographs sold thousands of copies and became part of how Americans saw their country.

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