【原文标题】Most Influential Photos
View from the Window at Le Gras
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
It took a unique combination of ingenuity and curiosity to produce the first known photograph, so it’s fitting that the man who made it was an inventor and not an artist. In the 1820s, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce had become fascinated with the printing method of lithography, in which images drawn on stone could be reproduced using oil-based ink. Searching for other ways to produce images, Niépce set up a device called a camera obscura, which captured and projected scenes illuminated by sunlight, and trained it on the view outside his studio window in eastern France. The scene was cast on a treated pewter plate that, after many hours, retained a crude copy of the buildings and rooftops outside. The result was the first known permanent photograph.
It is no overstatement to say that Niépce’s achievement laid the groundwork for the development of photography. Later, he worked with artist Louis Daguerre, whose sharper daguerreotype images marked photography’s next major advancement.
Boulevard du Temple
The shoe shiner working on Paris’ Boulevard du Temple one spring day in 1839 had no idea he would make history. But Louis Daguerre’s groundbreaking image of the man and a customer is the first known instance of human beings captured in a photograph. Before Daguerre, people had only been represented in artworks. That changed when Daguerre fixed his lens on a Paris street and then exposed a silver-plated sheet of copper for several minutes (though others came into the frame, they did not stay long enough to be captured), developed and fixed the image using chemicals. The result was the first mirror-image photograph.
Unlike earlier efforts, daguerreotypes were sharp and permanent. And though they were eventually outpaced by newer innovations—daguerreotypes were not reproducible, nor could they be printed on paper—Daguerre did more than perhaps anyone else to show the vast potential of the new medium of photography.
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
While little is remembered of the Crimean War—that nearly three-year conflict that pitted England, France, Turkey and Sardinia-Piedmont against Russia—coverage of it radically changed the way we view war. Until then, the general public learned of battles through heroic paintings and illustrations. But after the British photographer Roger Fenton landed in 1855 on that far-off peninsula on the Black Sea, he sent back revelatory views of the conflict that firmly established the tradition of war photography. Those 360 photos of camp life and men manning mortar batteries may lack the visceral brutality we have since become accustomed to, yet Fenton’s work showed that this new artistic medium could rival the fine arts. This is especially clear in The Valley of the Shadow of Death, which shows a cannonball-strewn gully not far from the spot immortalized in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” That haunting image, which for many evokes the poem’s “Cannon to right of them,/ Cannon to left of them,/ Cannon in front of them” as the troops race “into the valley of Death,” also revealed to the general public the reality of the lifeless desolation left in the wake of senseless slaughter. Scholars long believed that this was Fenton’s only image of the valley. But a second version with fewer of the scattered projectiles turned up in 1981, fueling a fierce debate over which came first. That the more recently discovered picture is thought to be the first indicates that Fenton may have been one of the earliest to stage a news photograph.
Abraham Lincoln was a little-known one-term Illinois Congressman with national aspirations when he arrived in New York City in February 1860 to speak at the Cooper Union. The speech had to be perfect, but Lincoln also knew the importance of image. Before taking to the podium, he stopped at the Broadway photography studio of Mathew B. Brady. The portraitist, who had photographed everyone from Edgar Allan Poe to James Fenimore Cooper and would chronicle the coming Civil War, knew a thing or two about presentation. He set the gangly rail splitter in a statesmanlike pose, tightened his shirt collar to hide his long neck and retouched the image to improve his looks. In a click of a shutter, Brady dispelled talk of what Lincoln said were “rumors of my long ungainly figure … making me into a man of human aspect and dignified bearing.” By capturing Lincoln’s youthful features before the ravages of the Civil War would etch his face with the strains of the Oval Office, Brady presented him as a calm contender in the fractious antebellum era. Lincoln’s subsequent talk before a largely Republican audience of 1,500 was a resounding success, and Brady’s picture soon appeared in publications like Harper’s Weekly and on cartes de visite and election posters and buttons, making it the most powerful early instance of a photo used as campaign propaganda. As the portrait spread, it propelled Lincoln from the edge of greatness to the White House, where he preserved the Union and ended slavery. As Lincoln later admitted, “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me President of the United States.”
Cathedral Rock, Yosemite
Decades before Ansel Adams ever saw Yosemite’s jagged peaks, Carleton Watkins packed his mammoth plate camera, tripods and a makeshift tent darkroom on mules and ventured into the remote California valley. At the journey’s end, Watkins had 130 negatives that offered the first printed images of Yosemite’s towering masses, glacial geology and jaw-dropping expanse. The images, including Watkins’ intimate view of Cathedral Rock, floored the growing nation’s power brokers. John Conness, a U.S. Senator from California, owned a set of the prints and became an evangelist for the work. On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Yosemite Grant Act, laying the foundation for the National Park System, which now protects some 84 million acres of land.
The Dead of Antietam
It was at Antietam, the blood-churning battle in Sharpsburg, Md., where more Americans died in a single day than ever had before, that one Union soldier recalled how “the piles of dead ... were frightful.” The Scottish-born photographer Alexander Gardner arrived there two days after the September 17, 1862, slaughter. He set up his stereo wet-plate camera and started taking dozens of images of the body-strewn countryside, documenting fallen soldiers, burial crews and trench graves. Gardner worked for Mathew Brady, and when he returned to New York City his employer arranged an exhibition of the work. Visitors were greeted with a plain sign reading “The Dead of Antietam.” But what they saw was anything but simple. Genteel society came upon what are believed to be the first recorded images of war casualties. Gardner’s photographs are so sharp that people could make out faces. The death was unfiltered, and a war that had seemed remote suddenly became harrowingly immediate. Gardner helped make Americans realize the significance of the fratricide that by 1865 would take more than 600,000 lives. For in the hallowed fields fell not faceless strangers but sons, brothers, fathers, cousins and friends. And Gardner’s images of Antietam created a lasting legacy by establishing a painfully potent visual precedent for the way all wars have since been covered.
The Horse in Motion
When a horse trots or gallops, does it ever become fully airborne? This was the question photographer Eadweard Muybridge set out to answer in 1878. Railroad tycoon and former California governor Leland Stanford was convinced the answer was yes and commissioned Muybridge to provide proof. Muybridge developed a way to take photos with an exposure lasting a fraction of a second and, with reporters as witnesses, arranged 12 cameras along a track on Stanford’s estate.
As a horse sped by, it tripped wires connected to the cameras, which took 12 photos in rapid succession. Muybridge developed the images on site and, in the frames, revealed that a horse is completely aloft with its hooves tucked underneath it for a brief moment during a stride. The revelation, imperceptible to the naked eye but apparent through photography, marked a new purpose for the medium. It could capture truth through technology. Muybridge’s stop-motion technique was an early form of animation that helped pave the way for the motion-picture industry, born a short decade later.
Bandit's Roost, 59½ Mulberry Street
Late 19th-century New York City was a magnet for the world’s immigrants, and the vast majority of them found not streets paved with gold but nearly subhuman squalor. While polite society turned a blind eye, brave reporters like the Danish-born Jacob Riis documented this shame of the Gilded Age. Riis did this by venturing into the city’s most ominous neighborhoods with his blinding magnesium flash powder lights, capturing the casual crime, grinding poverty and frightful overcrowding. Most famous of these was Riis’ image of a Lower East Side street gang, which conveys the danger that lurked around every bend. Such work became the basis of his revelatory book How the Other Half Lives, which forced Americans to confront what they had long ignored and galvanized reformers like the young New York politician Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote to the photographer, “I have read your book, and I have come to help.” Riis’ work was instrumental in bringing about New York State’s landmark Tenement House Act of 1901, which improved conditions for the poor. And his crusading approach and direct, confrontational style ushered in the age of documentary and muckraking photojournalism.
The Hand of Mrs. Wilhelm Röntgen
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen
There’s no way of knowing how many pictures were taken of Anna Bertha Röntgen, and most are surely lost to history. But one of them isn’t: it is of her hand—more precisely, the bones in her hand—an image captured by her husband Wilhelm when he took the first medical x-ray in 1895. Wilhelm had spent weeks working in his lab, experimenting with a cathode tube that emitted different frequencies of electromagnetic energy. Some, he noticed, appeared to penetrate solid objects and expose sheets of photographic paper. He used the strange rays, which he aptly dubbed x-rays, to create shadowy images of the inside of various inanimate objects and then, finally, one very animate one. The picture of Anna’s hand created a sensation, and the discovery of x-rays won Wilhelm the first Nobel Prize ever granted for physics in 1901. His breakthrough quickly went into use around the world, revolutionizing the diagnosis and treatment of injuries and illnesses that had always been hidden from sight. Anna, however, was never taken with the picture. “I have seen my death,” she said when she first glimpsed it. For many millions of other people, it has meant life.
Moonlight: The Pond
Is Edward Steichen’s ethereal image a photograph or a painting? It’s both, and that was exactly his point. Steichen photographed the wooded scene in Mamaroneck, N.Y., hand-colored the black-and-white prints with blue tones and may have even added the glowing moon. The blurring of two mediums was the aim of Pictorialism, which was embraced by professional photographers at the turn of the 20th century as a way to differentiate their work from amateur snapshots taken with newly available handheld cameras. And no single image was more formative than Moonlight.
The year before he created Moonlight, Steichen wrote an essay arguing that altering photos was no different than choosing when and where to click the shutter. Photographers, he said, always have a perspective that necessarily distorts the authenticity of their images. Although Steichen eventually abandoned Pictorialism, the movement’s influence can be seen in every photographer who seeks to create scenes, not merely capture them. Moonlight, too, continues to resonate. A century after Steichen made the image, a print sold for nearly $3 million.