09.21.12 5:01 PM ET
Photos Before Photography
This image of a deep well in the water-starved region of Bolonchen, on the Yucatan, was drawn in 1842 by the Englishman Frederick Catherwood. A print of it is in the survey of Caribbean art now at the Museo del Barrio in New York. What’s most amazing about the image is how utterly candid and instant and photographic it seems – and indeed it turns out that, just three years after Daguerre’s invention, Catherwood brought a camera along to this remote corner of Mexico. Even more interesting is the fact that he found its results unsatisfactory, and apparently went back to using his filmless camera obscura – and even that might not have been useful for a dark scene like this, which he might have had to draw freehand. The truth is, visual culture in 19th-century Europe was essentially photographic even before photography’s arrival.
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