History of Astrophotography

Posted by Collodion on 5 June 2015 14:03

Every day our eyes catch the light of our memories – time spent with family, the journey to work, a special holiday, a beautiful sunset or a dark starlit night. Each image captured is a picture drawn in light – a photograph: only to be lost in our minds or forever forgotten. Nearly two hundred years ago a small group of amateur scientists achieved what had eluded mankind for centuries – the ability to capture a permanent record of an image seen by their own eyes – a moment in time frozen onto a surface. They had discovered Photography. They were the ‘Catchers of the Light’
The ‘Catchers of the Light’ - the Astrophotographers’ Family History, is very different from any other book you will have ever read, a tale of adventure, adversity and ultimate triumph.
Catchers of the Light’ is about a small band of ordinary men and women, who did such extraordinary things; overcoming obstacles as diverse as war, poverty, typhoid, death, unfriendly cannibal natives and even exploding donkeys; succeeding against all the odds, to bring you the magnificent astronomical images you will see in its pages.
Although it is about a technically difficult subject, it is not written in the style of a dull and dreary textbook; but presented as a family history, in the way an ageing grandfather might tell his life story to his grandchildren, in front of a cosy warming fire on a cold winter’s night.
Yet it is not a work of hearsay and anecdotes, but tells the true stories of their lives, based on information obtained from original records and contemporary accounts of the people who knew them.
Read the story of much neglected pioneer of early photography,Frederick Scott Archer whose introduction of the 'wet collodion' process in 1851, brought this new 'art' form within reach of the ordinary public, and which took astronomical photography to the next level. This is the first biography ever written on him, and corrects much of what has been previously thought to be true. 
Or of William Cranch Bond, although he could not afford a telescope still climbed to the bottom of a well to accustom his eyes to the dark, and who in later life became the first Director of the famous Harvard College Observatory. And of his son George Phillips Bond, who tried to photograph the ‘Great Comet’ of 1858 and failed, but nevertheless suffered the tragic loss of his wife, baby daughter and father in the space of eleven months - thus adding weight to the ancient view that such objects are portents of doom and death; 
Or of Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming who began life as a housekeeper to a great astronomer, but ended it as a great astronomer herself,  and in doing so became the first person to see the iconic ‘Horsehead’ nebula, recently voted the finest and most famous object in the heavens; 
Or of William Usherwood, a miniature artist and ‘wedding & baby’ photographer, from the village of Walton-on-the-Hill in Surrey, England, who much to the embarrassment of the astronomical community, became the first person to successfully photograph a Comet, beating all the ‘Great’ astronomers of the day with their mighty telescopes;
Or the young boy, Edward Emerson Barnard, brought up in the cholera riddled slums of Nashville, Tennessee during the American Civil War, who despite having no father, possessing little education and even less hope, grew up to be one of the greatest astronomers of all time.
And over forty more such pioneers of Astrophotography, each with their own incredible story to tell. They were the ‘Catchers of the Light’.
If you have seen or read ‘Longitude’ the story of John Harrison, the country carpenter who built the first clock that could accurately tell the time at sea, and who also made ‘Del Boy’ a ‘millionaire’, then you will love the ‘Catchers of the Light’.
Please read more by visiting our eShop 'Catchers of the Light'.

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