Portrait of Abu Ali al-Hasan

In about a week from now I will be giving a talk to a group of Virginia public school art teachers about photography history from about 1850 to 1900 as part of a program being provided by the Virginia Museum of Fine Art (VMFA). The overall program is focused on Impressionism and not really about photography other than how it impacted the impressionist painters of the 1870s. Im a bit of a sideshow and will talk about what was happening with photography during that time. We will also be making camera obscuras and digital pinhole cameras to give them simple ideas to take back to their classrooms.

Part of my task has been to provide lesson plans that the teachers can take back and use in their classroom to replicate some of the hands on things we will do. Although the camera obscuras and digital pinhole cameras have nothing really to do with what I will be talking about for the impressionist time period, they are projects well suited for the classroom. To add in a great historical connection I will be providing information on Abu Ali al-Hasan, commonly thought of as the father of optics. Al-Hasan was born in Basra Iraq in 950 and died in Egypt around 1040 and was the first recored person to take pinhole optics from the theoretical realm to the experimental. He gives the first correct explanation of vision, showing that light is reflected from an object into the eye and would use a camera obscura to help prove this.

Over the weekend as I spent two days in my darkroom experimenting with the wet-plate collodion process the topic of al-Hasan was still in my mind. I thought of what he might look like, so I made a portrait of the great mathematician. By the end of the day I had collected a group of al-Hasan portraits as I tried multiple exposure and development time combinations. The image above shows the 5×7 plates drying in the rack.


~ by Phil Nesmith on June 16, 2008.

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