Picks and Pans Review: The Origins of Photography

UPDATED 05/09/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/09/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Helmut Gernsheim

While some members of the younger generation may believe that photography was invented by James Garner and Mariette Hartley, it has been around for more than 150 years in various forms. In this book, essentially an expansion of the opening chapter from his widely praised 1955 volume The History of Photography, Gernsheim credits the Frenchman Nicéphore Niépce with making the first real photograph in 1826. It's a murky landscape shot, but what's most remarkable about many of the early photographs Gernsheim reproduces is their clarity and durability. Many of the portraits, despite the hard-eyed look created by long exposures that taxed the subjects' patience, are fascinating. Gernsheim's text on the development of photography, most of which took place in Europe, is much more detailed and technical than the average reader will want, especially considering the price tag. But libraries and photography buffs will find the book irresistible, and parts of it will be of interest to anybody who ever took or looked at a snapshot and entertained the thought, "How does this work, anyway?" The 191 illustrations make up for a lot of verbiage. (Thames and Hudson, $50)

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