The article discusses the use of images in history, specifically, photographs. Trachtenberg begins by discussing how in its beginnings, photography was very difficult to describe. The vocabulary surrounding it was not fully formed as we know it today. At the time, it was expressly called photography. Rather, it was called by the process that was used to take the picture. There were many processed from this time as people tried to find the best way to transfer images, whether these be reflections onto walls that needed to be painted or imprinting the image onto glass or metal. People tried to establish a vocabulary for photography so that it could be better understood.
The lack of understanding around photos is very important to its history. People are creatures are habit and often fear big change so while the photograph may have been this new amazing technology, it was not trusted implicitly. Because people could not understand it, they did not completely trust its use in history. The photos do depict things that happened in real life, but they are constructed by humans and that must be noted for it to be analyzed properly. Photographs did have their uses. Trachtenberg notes how photos pick up details that paintings could not, some not easily, some not at all. Its image was like a mirror, no markings indicative of brush strokes on the photo.
Photography changed how images were recorded. It changed the process from one of human creation to one of mechanization. What people spent hours, days, weeks painting became much quicker with the invention of the camera and photograph. There was not artistic interpretation or changes made, rather the photos were an exact replica of the world around them, leaving interpretation on to happen after the photo is seen, rather than while it is being created. The camera, a photo, was able to capture the world around it through the direction of humans. The camera was an eyewitness to the events in history. It say what happened and recorded it, a primary sources that saw thousands of historical events.
He then goes on to describe a painting by Peale, a self-portrait. This is another example of pre-creation artistic interpretations that are found in paintings. He painted an image of himself looking into a museum, people admiring his art which is hung on the wall in mass amounts. He drew himself as one of the artists of the Muse, his painting depicting images that really exist. He painted pictures of real life things and recorded them history. He used tools, his main, and the process of interpretation to record history in this other medium.
Painting is an antecedent in history that allowed for the cameras creation to record history. Painters would have to use tools and their mind to create paintings. They much take in the images or put it onto canvas. They would have to analyze events from many different angles. During this, they make many observations and can make artistic changes to the paintings to fit those changes. Some of this can be very small, others very obvious. For example, in the painting in the prologue, Peale puts a light behind himself that looks as if it coming from behind a curtain. This is physically impossible, means that it is an artistic choice by Peale. This medium gave people a way to photograph allowing them to record real, mirror like images of events.
When interpreting history, it is also important to note the context in which the images was taken, Was does that say about the image itself. While it does not state it in this reading, I know from another class that cameras, when they were first invented, were very expensive. That means that it likely that the pictures taken earlier were probably deemed important enough to be photographed by the rich. As the technology changed and became more easily accessible, the use of camera in history would change again, recording not only what the rich deemed important, but the daily lives of people.
As mentioned earlier, people are not always accepting of new things, photographs and cameras are no different. Trachtenberg describes a shadowed man with tools, believed to be in the evil arts. While this image was actually of a photographer, people though the person evil, an alchemist, playing with science in ways it should not. Some believed that the camera was a centerpiece of an icon based society, which was deeply frowned upon. This image eventually shifted to the normal photographer, recording events in history for future viewing.
Trachtenberg ends by describing other reactions people had to the camera. People were amazed by it, a new invention like something they had never experienced. While yes, people had paintings, pictures were different. They were “real” in that they created perfect replicas of events, they include details that painters may not have been able to and they were much quicker compared to the time it took to paint. While photos do seem to create exact replicas of events, it is still important to note that the images are still representations. They allow people to look back and see things, but do not actually bring them back in time to experience first hand. Photos are amazing, very accurate captures of events that be used to interpret history. It depicts real world reflections rather than the artists interpretations in other artistic works.