If, by 1725, all the chemical and optical necessities for the practice of photography already existed, why wasn't the art form invented until 1839? Geoffrey Batchen, an associate professor of art history and author of Burning with Desire
, has an interesting answer: people simply weren't ready for it. Along with a blossoming in literature, philosophy, music, and science, the 18th century was also host to a whole new way of thinking about nature and landscape. The camera obscura, a portable box equipped with a lens or a mirror, was a popular tool that people used to first capture views and then trace them. The ability to reproduce a scene--however imperfectly--whet people's appetites for more exact methods, leading first to what Batchen calls the "proto-photographers," and then sometime later to the invention of Louis Daguerre's daguerrotype and Henry Fox Talbot's photography in the same year.
Batchen's history lesson is filled with eccentric characters and fascinating insights into passions and obsessions of the Age of Enlightenment. The book becomes controversial, however, in Batchen's assertion that the early photographers, rather than trying to capture reality, were, in fact, attempting to decontruct it--long before Jacques Derrida created the theory of deconstruction. Whether or not you end up agreeing with Batchen, Burning with Desire is a unique look at photography's roots, one sure to engender heated discussion among enthusiasts of the art form.