The Camera Obscura in the scientific war between Christianity and Islam

 

I know that I’ve never wanted to talk about gear… but let’s see this post as a matter of faith, science, philosophy and intellect.
Anyway, this comes as second part of The experts and the Creative World.

We all know that Christianity had a strong anti-intellectual tradition that survived until the late mediaeval period, and occasionally burst forth in the Renaissance, as during the heresy trial of Galileo Galilei. This struggle ended when Western science overthrew the traditional Christian view of the physical world, beginning in the 18th century, and has remained dominant ever since. Ironically, some fundamentalists are still fighting the battle, particularly over Darwinism, creationism, and… intelligence.

Skeleton praying, tab XXXVI, Osteographia, 1733, and Skeleton bound, tab. X, The Anatomy of the Human Body, 1740

Skeleton praying, tab XXXVI, Osteographia, 1733, and Skeleton bound, tab. X, The Anatomy of the Human Body, 1740

Many modern observers have a hard time accepting that early Islam could accept 1,200 years ago what modern Christianity still has trouble with. Admittedly, modern Islamic fundamentalists also share a parallel rejection of the empirical scientific method, preferring to go back to sacred text.

Long before the first photographs were made, Chinese philosopher Mo Di and Greek mathematicians Aristotle and Euclid described a pinhole camera in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. In the 6th century CE, Byzantine mathematician Anthemius of Tralles used a type of camera obscura in his experiments, Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) (965–1040) studied the camera obscura and pinhole camera, Albertus Magnus (1193–1280) discovered silver nitrate, and Georg Fabricius (1516–71) discovered silver chloride.

Techniques described in the Book of Optics are capable of producing primitive photographs using medieval materials. The invention of the camera obscura is then attributed to the Arab scientist Ibn Al Haytham and described in his Book of Optics (1011-1021). English scientists Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke later invented a portable camera obscura in 1665-1666.

Ibn Al Haytham developed the concepts of inertia and of momentum, arguing that the celestial bodies were governed by the laws of physics – thus launching the field of astrophysics. He also described something he called “gravity at a distance”, and proved for the first time that light travels in straight lines. In a related point, he was the first to state what later became known as Fermat’s principle: that a beam of light travels between two points in the least amount of time possible.  He also theorised that light was a stream of particles rather than a disembodied energy. Amazingly, the debate between those who say light is a physical substance versus pure energy is still not resolved after 1,000 years.

Ibn Al Haytham invented the first camera obscura.
And then came Persia, and its king changing the laws to embrace photography in the Arab world.

Ibn Al Haytham's 11th century camera obscura greatly influenced Renaissance European optics and artists

Ibn Al Haytham’s 11th century camera obscura greatly influenced Renaissance European optics and artists

However, we’re told in Western/Christian world that a camera obscura type device was first hinted by Aristotle as early as c.350BCE. The device as a tool for artists became widely known after 1558, with the publication of Giambattista della Porta’s ‘Natural Magic’. This work was the first to suggest use of this device as a tool to aid drawing.

In the 1500s many artists, including Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, used the camera obscura to help them draw their paintings. And very often with the holiness that we love to give to Da Vinci, we end up giving him credit for everything, including the camera obscura itself.

A 16th Century depiction of a camera obscura device

A 16th Century depiction of a camera obscura device

Camera Obscura device

Camera Obscura device

Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura used by a painter

Camera Obscura used by a painter

The Camera Obscura, 1646

The Camera Obscura, 1646

The concept behind the camera obscura is almost too simple to be believed: It’s a pin-sized hole made in either a darkened box or room. Bright light from the outside pours through the pinhole and lands on the opposite wall of the dark space – creating a perfectly preserved image of the scene outside. The resulting image is upside-down, but Renaissance painters discovered that a simple mirror flips it back: the insight that helped them to achieve perfect scale and perspective in their paintings.

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or else, we would have had the daVinci’s Last Supper up side down… and lots of new conspiracy theories about that. And movies. And experts on up side down theories.

Feel free to give wise and interesting tips, or even topics that you think it may be interesting to bring here.


Other posts you should read:

Exhibitions: Go! ;
David Szauder the Glitched PixelNoizz ;
Majid Saeedi: Lucas Dolega Award ;
Emmet Gowin and his revelations ;
Philip-Lorca diCorcia in the Street ;
Enrico Natali and other people ;
My Non Existence in a Prison. Moscow ;
Giving Birth to a Goat.
2013: The Interviews and The Photographers

January, 2014 by ©Gonzalo Bénard for 2HeadS
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