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ShipLibrary Blog

150 Years of Photography at Shippensburg University

by Heather Glasby on 2022-10-12T17:30:00-04:00 | Comments



Today’s post was written by Archives Student Volunteer Alisha Rivera.

There is not one person or moment in history that can be pointed to as the day photography started. In fact, the history of photography spans hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The need to freeze images of people, objects, and landscapes in time was evident in the way artists were commissioned to create silhouettes through candlelight, or landscape paintings through the camera obscura.

Camera obscura, which means “dark chamber” in Latin, is the process of having a small and completely dark room with a ray of light shining through a tiny hole on one of the walls. The result is an inverted image on the other side of the room. Artists would use this technique to create large landscape paintings, but this technique was limited to its large size. Artists were looking for a way to make the camera obscura smaller so that they could create smaller paintings. Eventually, people began to experiment with the camera obscura by adding chemicals on paper in hopes that the light coming from the camera obscura would fix a permanent image of the subject to it. Through years of trial and error, photography was born.

Here at the University Archives & Special Collections, we have a sizable collection of photographs ranging from the 1870’s through the present day. Here is a brief history of photography using photos in our collection.

woodcut of a camera obscura, or pinhole cameraAn inverse image of a city skyline.

Lantern Slides and the “Magic Lantern”

To add context to Lantern slides and their “magic lantern”, they are the equivalent of a projector today. To capitalize on the use of photography as a means of education, the Langenheim brothers of Philadelphia created photographic lantern slides. Lantern slides had already existed for hundreds of years by this point, but they were mostly hand painted portraits of whatever image the illustrator was trying to convey. They also relied on candlelight to project the image onto a wall or flat surface.

When the photograph was invented, the next logical step for the magic lantern was to use photos in place of illustrations. Many of the photos were taken by amateur gentleman photographers that had the means to travel the world. Lantern slides were popular amongst these travelers because the photos were developed onto small dry glass plates, and while the possibility of them breaking was likely, they were easy to travel with. The results were tiny photographs that could be projected, reproduced, and shared with many people. Faculty of The Cumberland Valley State Normal School (now known as Shippensburg University) used hundreds of lantern slides during instruction in subjects like English, Mathematics, Science, and more. The archives house several boxes of these lantern slides.

stereoscope image of a young girlstereoscope image of a woman painting

stereoscope image of two children sleddingstereoscope image of fruit sellers on a boat


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