Saturday, April 27, 2013

How Photography Changed Time: Part 2

All media are extensions of man that cause deep and lasting changes in him and transform his environment. Marshall McLuhan
The camera has offered us amazing possibilities, which we are only just beginning to exploit...for although photography is already over a hundred years old it is only in recent years that the course of development has allowed us to see beyond the specific instance and recognize the creative consequences. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Technologies can extend our reach physically and allow us to go beyond the limits of our senses. Television brings events from around the world into our living rooms, for example, and photography lets us see in the non-visible part of the light (electromagnetic) spectrum such as in the x-ray or infrared wavelengths.

X-ray of a human hand (left);
normal photo of a tree (bottom right),
infrared shot of the same tree (top right).
The camera can 'see' in ways that the human eye cannot. 
But, as I said in my first article, How Photography Changed Time: Part 1, photography also extended our ability to perceive time. It has expanded our sense of time -- which I believe is another sense just like touch or smell or hearing but even more important.

As you will see in the following photographs, we can now take a one million second exposure to reveal 10,000 galaxies in the furthest part of space and also millisecond or nanosecond shots of subatomic particles. These long and short exposures give us a slice of time and the power to see worlds unavailable to the eye. The ability of photography to do this has allowed us to confirm that the universe was created with the Big Bang. It has  also allowed us to discover the most fundamental building blocks of matter with photographs of subatomic particles released in high speed collisions.

In my research I found that "starting as early as 1840, cameras were designed to take photographs with astronomical telescopes. After 1900 large telescopes were optimized for photography rather than for observation -- making them essentially telephoto cameras." Coupling photography with astronomy has led to many of the major discoveries about the universe during the last 100 years -- discoveries that were only possible with long exposure photographs. (Quoted in part from my article at A Brief History Of Light & Photography: Part 2)

This composite photograph was included in Edwin Hubble's doctoral dissertation of 1917 and shows photographs of different types of 'spiral nebulae'. Later Hubble proved that spiral nebulae were galaxies outside our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Up until then everyone had assumed that the Milky Way was the entire universe but because of photography scientists found that the universe was much larger than anyone had imagined. From Edwin Hubble's Ph.D. dissertation: Photographic Investigations of Faint Nebulae ( 
Even in the normal world photography can 'see' things that the eye cannot see: events that happen much faster and also events that happen much slower -- such as a photo finish at a race, a bullet piercing a light bulb, the time lapse growth of a plant or the slow motion replay of a touchdown at a football game.

In addition artists have used photographic long exposures to capture continuous motion -- to reveal a moment in time smeared across the picture area like a painting. Or photography can capture moving light sources, such as flashlights used like paint brushes, to create light painting photographs taken over many seconds or even minutes. As a photo artist I have used both of these techniques for over 10 years now and have written a book about it: Experimental Digital Photography, Rick Doble, Sterling Publishing, New York/London, 2010.

Chronophotography: Named for the primal Greek god of sequential time, Chronos, chronophotography was invented by Edweard Muybridge in the 1870s and produces a number of sharp photographs of movement in sequence. Series on the right shows Muybridge's famous sequence of a horse galloping in which he proved that all four hooves left the ground at the same time (top right) -- which the human eye could not see. Photo on the left shows a modern day chronophotograph of a diver, very similar to diving photos now at the Olympics. (

One million second exposure of deep space by the Hubble telescope; this is a cropped enlarged detail showing over a hundred galaxies. The full original photo shows about 10,000 galaxies in the deepest part of the universe. (

Photograph of the first atomic bomb test, code named Trinity, 25 milliseconds after its detonation in New Mexico USA on July 16, 1945. Taken with a Rapatronic camera developed by Harold 'Doc' Edgerton, the high speed photography wizard, exposures of atomic blasts were frequently about 10 nanoseconds (0.00001 milliseconds).

A streamer chamber photograph of subatomic particles: a proton-antiproton interaction at CERN’s Super Proton Synchrotron in 1982. (

Very fast photo triggered at the moment a bullet pierced a light bulb.

Photo finish of a race. (

The same water current taken at a very fast and a very slow shutter speed. The fast shutter speed photo at the top shows water in sharp frozen detail, much sharper than the eye can see; the slow shutter speed photo at the bottom shows the same water soft and foaming -- again in a way that the eye cannot see. (

'Light painting' digital photograph: a self-portrait taken at eight seconds. Digital photography has expanded the ability of artists to use photography for artistic purposes. This self-portrait I took of myself was done entirely by me with a handheld flashlight in one shot. (Rick Doble)

Time lapse animation of a flower blooming.

NOTE: Not only did photography reveal the subatomic world, its discoveries led to the invention of the digital camera -- as the image sensors on digital cameras work because of our understanding of quantum physics.
For more about the history of photography 
and how it changed human perception 
see the reprint on my series:
at the Light Painting World Alliance website

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