PHOTOSEED: A collection of the origins of photography

By Gabriel Fraga de Cal. April 8, 2012

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Photography is pure chemistry and its invention in the early years of the 19th century was the result of a series of scientific discoveries. In spite of being a relatively modern art, in the 5th century BC a Chinese philosopher called Mo Jing described for the first time the pinhole camera or the theory of the “image forming through a small hole”.


But photography as a popular practice didn’t begin until the end of the 19th century. In the 1880s, and until the 20th century, a large number of photographers started to record the world that surrounded them with their cameras, leaving us extraordinary valuable and essential source materials that David Spencer collects in his site Photoseed.


Spencer, a photographic historian, has created a public online archive where we can contemplate late 19th century to early 20th artistic photography. He describes Photoseed as a “one man band”. The collection gathered on the website is fascinating: in Photoseed we can access the work of the first English, French or Austrian photographic clubs and salons, among others. Above all, David Spencer does us, lovers of photography and history, a great favour. We are talking about source material that, barely a decade ago, only a few could access. Also –and taking into account that photography in this period was basically descriptive and utilitarian–, the artistic quality, texture and ambiance of the images is extraordinary.


The most interesting thing about this photography is its originality and maturity. And we can’t deny that in spite of being a recent art, the work of those photographers sets a benchmark. The contrast between these photos and the ones we take these days spark off a very interesting debate about the importance of origins in artistic creation.

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