Vermeer and Chevalier

The science behind translating the 3D world to a 2D representation has been around for hundreds of years. Since the time of Aristotle (384-322 BC), it has been known that when light enters a dark room through a pinhole, the world is projected on the opposite wall, though inverted (Buckingham 6). Since light is known to travel in a straight line, the rays from above that enter the pinhole are observed on the bottom of the projection (Baldwin). Hundreds of years later, Renaissance artists would attach lenses and mirrors to the pinhole to focus the projection, and the camera obscura was born (Buckingham 6). 

Vermeer (1632-75) is widely believed to have utilized the camera obscura. His paintings are so accurate, that many believe there is simply no other explanation. During his time, Vermeer would have used the camera obscura in a very similar way as Aristotle. However, instead of viewing eclipses, Vermeer would have traced the projected image for his projects (Buckingham 6). More specifically, Vermeer would have learned how to manipulate the 3D world using mirrors and lenses onto a 2D surface to create the “optical” appearance in his paintings (Irvine).

Image result for vermeer officer and laughing girl


For Chevalier’s daguerrotype in 1842, the same basic idea of the camera obscure was used. Instead of a dark room, he would have utilized a portable camera obscura with a sliding rear box and a copper plate coated with silver. The plate would be treated with chemical vapors to make the surface light sensitive before exposure (Buckingham 8, 9). The sensitive plate would be placed in the back of the portable camera, and the sliding door would allow light to enter. After the exposure was finished, the plate would be exposed to mercury to develop the image, and fixed with a salt solution to ensure the plate is no longer light sensitive (9). The resulting image is also backwards, because of the same reason mentioned previously (Baldwin). 

Parisian panorama, c 1842. : News Photo


Baldwin, Gordon, and Martin C. Jürgens. Looking at Photographs: a Guide to Technical Terms. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009.

Buckingham, Alan. Photography. Dorling Kindersley, 2004.

Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Photography and the Optical Image“