Cinematography – A Brief Historical Overview

Cinematography is one of the man’s efforts to portray to others, through the use of techniques that combine motion pictures and text, the world and the messages it transfers as these are understood by the artist. With the term cinematography, one today describes the discipline of making lighting and camera choices when recording photographic images for cinema use. Based on two Greek words, cinematography etymologically means “writing in the movement” and was introduced as a new technique to record images of people and objects as they moved and project them on to a type of screen. Combined with sculpture, painting, dance, architecture, music, and literature, cinematography is today considered to be the seventh art.

It is very difficult for a researcher to find and pinpoint the one individual that could be named the “father” of cinematography, accepting that the word symbolizes a technique used for motion pictures’ creation. But, it is apparent that man has experimented, very early in human history, with different methods that would allow him to record the movement of images. Very closely related to still photography, which has been a catalyst to the development of cinematography since the mid 19th Century, the technique that would allow images to be recorded while in motion has been extensively studied. One of the first attempts to analyze the element of movement with the help of photographic machinery was made by the British photographer Edward Muybridge in 1878. After successfully developing a new method of producing consecutive photographic images, he recorded the movement of a running horse. Through the motion pictures he produced, he managed to prove that there are instances when a horse is running that none of its feet touch the ground. Around the same period, the French physicist Etienne Mare managed to capture, also by using photographic machinery that could record 12 images per second, the movements of a flying bird.

Based on the developments of the early 1880s in exposing images on light sensitive elements, attributed to pioneers like Thomas Edison and the Lumiere brothers among others, the new art form of motion pictures introduced a new type of aesthetics that captured the attention of people wanting to explore its applications and create art. One of the first cinematographers that decided to examine this dimension of moving images was the French Maries-George-Jean M?li?s who became one of the first cinema directors. With his film, Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la lune) in 1901, he created a fantastic story of a trip to the moon using motion pictures. He was also the one that introduced the coloring technique in films by painting each one of the frames by hand.

During the infancy stage of motion pictures, the cinematographer had multiple roles, acting as the director and the person holding and moving the camera. As the years pasted, this new art form was further developed by the new technological tools introduced. New art-related professions emerged and due to cinema’s ability to capture the attention of vast audiences worldwide, by appealing to more than one the five senses, cinematography emerged to what is known today as a multi-billion dollar industry and one of the favorite art forms in the world.

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