Discover more from AIgitated
2.2 • What is Photography–Part 2
(Still) working on mythtories: a digression
This post intended to identify specific ideas and events crucial to defining what Sir John Herschel referred to in his presentation that March morning in 1839. But as often happens when conducting deep research into complex historical subjects, something else interfered and diverted my intentions and attention that I felt compelled to address.
In the course of my daily general reading while I was researching and working on the draft of this post, I received this promotional email:
Go for a ride through the 9,000-year history of the car, from its roots in dogsleds to Henry Ford’s affordable and assembly line-built Model T, and meet the scientists working on the next generation of self-driving automobiles.
Roots in dogsleds? This I had to see…1
Patrick Stewart began narrating a meandering, romanticized, hyper-extended mess of widely and wildly disparate notions, loaded with figurative language and semantic distortions mashed together purporting to explain via a tortured six-degrees-of-separation narrative, how we came to have the automobile. I stopped watching after nine minutes.
It was mind-boggling to me how this production equates the evolution of man—an already self-contained, auto-propelled biped—from being “two-legged to four-wheeled,” that began with non-wheeled sleds pulled by dogs as “humankind’s first engine” that somehow became the precursor to the self-propelled car.
It was fictitious hyperbole on crack and steroids that the producers meant this thesis to be taken seriously, at least to me. Your mileage and ability to stomach such a rough ride may vary.
I may have been hyper-sensitized to this overreaching fantasy because I watched it while taking a break from finding, reading, and reacting to academic histories (and a plethora of blog posts) that speculate (or outright declare) the genesis of photography could be cave paintings and drawings dating anywhere from 5,000 to 70,000 years ago. By doing so, I realized they had created a “dog sled” photography timeline directly linked and analogous to the history of drawing.2
So now I need to take time to evaluate the history of drawing!
No less an authority than the Encyclopedia Britannica states that “as an artistic endeavour, drawing is almost as old as humankind.”
I began with the broadest search: define drawing.
I’ll pick two search results from the 4,250,000,000 returned:
the art or technique of representing an object or outlining a figure, plan, or sketch by means of lines.3
Seems very reasonable…
a picture or diagram made with a pencil, pen, or crayon rather than paint.
I picked that one because a very large number of returns contained the same elements, including this opening paragraph in Wikipedia’s non-attributed definition, which states:
Drawing is a visual art that uses an instrument to mark paper or another two-dimensional surface. The instrument might be pencils, crayons, pens with inks, brushes with paints, or combinations of these, and in more modern times, computer styluses with graphics tablets.4
I pulled this next one due to its more refined perspective:
In fine art, the term "drawing" may be defined as the linear realization of visual objects, concepts, emotions, and fantasies, including symbols and even abstract forms. Drawing is a graphic art which is characterized by an emphasis on form or shape, rather than mass and colour as in painting.5
Run this search yourself using the broadest possible search query and you will observe that the overwhelming number of returns do not include a prehistoric perspective. They tend to place the history of drawing from the Middle Ages or the pre-Rennaisance period. You will also notice they have a didactic quality meant to inform students of art history rather than as definitions meant for the general public.
And we again have “painting” added by extension to the mess!
Note the Wikipedia definition says drawing is a “visual art.” The fine arts definition states that drawing is a “graphic art” without mentioning examples, contrary to many of the other returns. Do your own search on “graphic art*” and see that most definitions that list examples will include photography. That didn’t sit well with me. How about you other photographers out there?
Words such as picture, representation, depiction, realization, reality, resemblance, and replication are synonyms applied freely across modern definitions of drawing and painting.
Keep in mind that we are in the process of learning how photography came to be defined. If you wrote a definition of photography as I suggested in post 2.0 and checked your work versus definitions found on the internet, per post 2.1, you also saw these words used in modern definitions.
Let’s not forget, and how could we given innumerable sources telling us ad nauseam, that the word photography was created from two Greek roots that mean “writing with light’ or, better, “light-writing”… or drawing… or painting…
Then I came across an oft-visited site that places the beginning of photography perhaps just a bit earlier than 70,000 years ago with this opening line:
The dream of photography may be as old as the human eye, which, in processing colors and shapes for the brain, essentially does what a camera does. 6
This introduces “camera” —an as yet undefined concept in the timeline to this point— and another inevitable consequence of projecting present understanding onto the past, known as the historian’s fallacy— and it introduces another new element: “the dream of photography.”
Cave drawings, or any unaided manual drawing, sketching, or painting process, have as much to do with photography's genesis as dogsleds do with motor vehicles. If we chose to embrace these over-conflated senses of distant connective (ir)relevance, then let’s cut through all this romanticized academic hyper-blather and make one all-encompassing, irrefutable statement:
By backward chrono-logic extension, photography (and dog sleds, cars, et omnia, began with the mythsterious Big Bang!
Some scholars allege to have identified prophetic photographic dreams in writings from antiquity.
Since ancient times, devices have been used to aid the eye and hand in reproducing the appearance of optical reality. Indeed, the legend of the Corinthian Maid who preserved the look of her departing lover by tracing his cast-shadow outline on a wall points to the antiquity of the desire for lifelike replicas.7
Given my diatribes above, and so as not to interfere with the narrative flow, I have split off my take on this as a digression.
But even after my diatribes, I find myself liking this idea of “dreams” as a narrative thread to follow through the developmental history— provided they are of the “What if...How does...What can... ?” variety that seeks technology-based goals, pursued with scientific methods, with a potential of being achieved.
So we have drawings in various places in the pre-historic world and mythical stories from ancient cultures interpreted by those in our time to be precursors to concepts and technologies that ancients couldn’t possibly imagine—even as a dream.
Obviously, we need a more tightly relevant timeline and narrative that is specific to photography. And yes, I realize, that has not yet been defined here, once again pointing out the problems created when continuously sliding back and forth from present to past to present and back again. Unfortunately, we will continue to come across dubious, vaporous connections and distorted perspectives that divert and dilute the quality of that part of the history that is relevant to our definitional purpose.
Now that this obstruction to the process has been exposed and dealt with, in the next post, I will get us back on track to tracing the history that actually resulted in the invention of what someone, somewhere, at some time eventually called photography.
Every student who enters upon a scientific pursuit, especially if at a somewhat advanced period of life, will find not only that he has much to learn, but much also to unlearn. (Herschel,1869)
** Regarding the image of Raging Herschel, I make the following claim statement:
I, a functional human, in one of my dreams, independently and intellectually conceived and hereby claim the idea of Sir John Herschel raging while holding a DSLR camera, which I consciously converted into text prompts that were rendered into a visually tangible image by processing with the NightCafe AI-generative image engine on 29 September 2023. Given that at the time of its creation and publication, the US Copyright Office has declared AI-generative art is not eligible for copyright protection in that the process fails the test of being human-created, and given that this ruling is being challenged and remains open to future re-interpretation, I hereby preemptively claim my presumptive copyright, to be retroactively effective should said ruling be reversed, as ©2023, by Len Romanick/Infonomena LLC. All rights reserved. The conceptual framework of this legal claim and intellectual property statement, as publicly presented for the first time on the Substack platform in this post on 9 October 2023 is ©2023, Len Romanick/Infonomena LLC. All rights reserved.
If you wish to see this episode, you must go to the site your local PBS affiliate and sign in through their Passport service to view the episodes in their Breakthrough: Ideas That Changed the World series, this being S1/No.4.
From this definition, I surmise this would therefore exclude creating markings by scratching on rocks or in the ground or sand because the surface of marked medium becomes three-dimensional once disturbed and displaced by the marking instrument.
The use of the words mark/marked/marking will recur surprisingly often in historic discussions as we continue.
And did you notice that “brushes with paints” —painting—is considered drawing in this definition?
Projecting the same haughty sense of quasi-authoritative quality allegedly inherent in all PBS productions, such as The Car.
These are the opening lines to Chapter 1, Photography A Cultural History, 5th ed., Mary Warner Marien, 2021. I am not specifically trying to single out her or this particular work. This is just one example among many found, but it is her bad luck I was reading this edition while working out this topic and drafting this post.