Dick and Dom reveal the genius of Fox Talbot, a pioneer of photography. They come up with their own genius idea when they turn a bin into a giant pinhole camera.
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This is Absolute Genius.
Dive in to a world of action, adventure and explosions.
Each show will introduce you to a different genius.
An amazing person who had a genius idea which shaped the world.
And they will inspire us to come
up with our own genius idea at the end of each show.
-But, will it be any good?
-Will it be any good?!
BOTH: It'll be Absolute Genius!
Exploding onto your screen today...
A genius of photography.
..and a celebrity photo shoot with a difference.
-Right a bit. Right a bit more. Bit more.
-OK, say "bogies".
-Get my good side?
Today's genius didn't just change the world,
he changed the way we see the world.
Magazine covers, news photos, and the pics you take on your mobile phone.
-Even those embarrassing school photos.
-Like this one.
in the development of photography one mammoth mind was key.
Ladies and gentlemen, we give you..
-Otherwise known to his friends as...
-Foxy? No, Henry.
Cheese! Brie, stilton, cheddar red Leicester or mozzarella?
Exactly! See? Told you he was clever.
Inspired by Fox Talbot's genius idea,
we'll be coming up with our own genius idea later in the show.
When we build a giant camera to photograph a giant city!
Photographs are everywhere. It's thought that there are over
one billion of them taken every single day!
But when Fox Talbot was born in Dorset
back in 1800 the total number of photographs
ever taken was a whopping great...zero!
In the days before digital cameras there was camera film,
photos had to be printed before you could see them.
And in the days before camera film, there was Fox Talbot!
One of a small group of people racing to invent photography.
But how were real life images created before photography was invented?
Ah, look! A lady enjoying her prawn sandwich. Look at the view!
It's amazing, isn't it?
This is the Clifton Camera Obscura in Bristol and the
images you can see on this table
are being beamed down from a tiny little
hole in the roof right up there.
It's kind of like Victorian CCTV.
Camera Obscura means "Dark Room" and the cameras you and I use
today got their name because they're portable camera obscuras.
So this is a not very portable camera!
But how does a camera obscura work?
If only Fran, our genius scientist, was here to tell us more
Can we spot her on here?
There she is!
There! Carrying a big box.
This is Fran.
She just loves experimenting...
..to help explain the ideas of our geniuses.
And she's sure to pop up just when you really need her.
Camera obscuras are the basis of all modern cameras.
All you need to make one is a blacked out box
and a small hole to let in the light.
Plus Fran to show you how it works.
So, what we're going to try
and do is create an image of you inside that box.
The light coming from the sun, bouncing off your head
and going in all different directions.
Light is a little bit funny, it likes to travel in straight lines.
We've got a nice straight rope there.
-So the rope represents the light?
So the light bouncing off Dick's head is going through our hole here,
keeping on going,
and it just so happens that it ends up at the bottom of our box
-and that's where it forms the image of the head.
So that's the top of him, what about the bottom?
That's a good point, that. This is the light bouncing off your foot.
And it's travelling in a straight line. And let's post it through.
Light is a little bit faster than this, though.
-So my image is now in there!
We've got the light going from the bottom of your foot,
through the hole and up to the top of our box.
But he's upside down. Why?
He is upside down, and that's because you can see,
as the light is going through,
the only light that can get through our hole,
it's travelling at a certain angle, so they end up crossing at the hole.
-Ah, and it flips the image over.
So, the small hole in the front of the camera obscura lets in just
enough light from outside to project a clear image on the inside.
Genius! Even if it is upside down.
And that is the very basics of a camera obscura.
For centuries, no-one could work out how to capture the real life
images inside camera obscuras.
Sitting in a dark room tracing around an image was
the closest it got to photography.
Come and get your passport portraits.
In you go.
But that took patience and skill.
There's a guy in there called Finn, and he wants a portrait doing.
No wonder they wanted to invent the camera!
Here it comes!
The race for photography started in the early-1800s
when people began to experiment with light sensitive materials
placed inside small camera obscuras.
They replaced the hole with a lens and the camera was born!
This is the first photograph ever taken, by Frenchman Nicephore Niepce.
The blurry buildings are a big
improvement on earlier attempts that simply faded away.
Another French pioneer, Louis Daguerre,
had big success but his images were
captured on metal so couldn't be reproduced.
The world was waiting for a genius idea.
Fox Talbot was the first person to master all three
stages of photography.
He captured images on light sensitive paper and fixed them
so they didn't disappear.
Better still, his negative images could be reproduced many times.
So for the first time ever you could
send snaps to all your family and friends.
Oh! Another 4,000 holiday snaps!
And when Fox Talbot finally invented photographs
he couldn't stop taking them.
He travelled all over Europe taking snaps with his camera.
All over Europe? So where are we going next?
-Don't tell me - Barcelona!
Wiltshire? I love Wiltshire!
This is Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.
And here it is in one of the earliest photographs ever.
Taken by the genius William Henry Fox Talbot.
And he actually lived here! It's absolutely stunning.
No wonder old WHFT wanted to take pictures of it.
His wife made some beautiful drawings of their travels.
But our Henry was a rubbish drawer.
There was nothing else for it, he had to invent photography.
Meet genius photographer Betsy Reed. An expert on early cameras.
This is actually the window where Fox Talbot made his first image.
It's a really ideal location because it's a southward facing window
so you get a lot of light, which is
really important for these early photographic processes.
So how exactly did these photographic experiments work?
I'll tell you what.
We need some chemicals and some flowers and then I can show you.
-Chemicals... Right, well, we'll get the flowers!
-You get the chemicals.
Fox Talbot figured out that the key to capturing an image
was light sensitive paper.
Lots of his early experiments involved paper, chemicals
Not another dark room!
Our next step will be to coat the paper with silver nitrate.
Silver nitrate changes colour when exposed to light.
Why does it have to be so dark in here?
Because if we had lights on the paper would react too
quickly before we want it to.
Squish it down nice and tight.
Our flower arrangements definitely aren't going to win any awards.
The thing that got Fox Talbot so excited is what happens to the
light sensitive paper once it's exposed to the sun.
Hold on to your hats!
Just set it right there.
How long will this take then?
Um, it will probably start to show in just a few minutes.
It's already changing.
What's happening there?
Well, your silver nitrate is reacting to the sunlight.
After five minutes' exposure to sunlight
the image on the paper has fully developed.
Fox Talbot knew he had discovered the genius chemical reaction
he needed to capture the image in a camera.
Where the flowers weren't, the sun has reacted with the silver and
it's gone dark, but where the flowers were it's left a lovely white print.
It's actually a negative image,
which means that all of the light bits
are dark and all of the dark bits are light.
And Fox Talbot was the first person to discover the negative.
The next stage of the process is fixing,
another breakthrough for Fox Talbot.
Without a chemical to fix it, the image would simply fade away.
A quick rinse to get rid of the chemicals, and we're done.
Or in Dick's case, overdone.
-Ah! And there we have it. My picture is well and truly fixed!
Look at that. Perfect.
-Don't do it!
-No, no, no, no!
-Don't let it rip!
-All right, that.
-And this will stay like this for ever?
Yes, it should.
Fox Talbot placed this light sensitive paper
inside a basic camera.
And was able to capture negative images of the real
world for the very first time.
It was the big breakthrough in the race to perfect photography.
But why were negatives so important?
Other photography pioneers could make images.
But only Fox Talbot could easily make copies. By treating
his negative image he could make as many positive prints as he liked.
This really was a breakthrough for Fox Talbot.
And everyone wanted their photo taken with this
incredible, affordable technology.
The problem was, because the chemical paper
took a while to react to light, you couldn't move during the exposure
or the picture would come out blurred.
And because faster reacting film wasn't going to be around for another
30 years, people had to sit still.
So how hard was it to take a great snap at the dawn of photography?
To find out we've borrowed an old camera
and are going to help Betsy take a photo 1860s-stylee.
All we need are some subjects who are really good at staying still.
-RUMBLING What's that noise? That noise!
-What, like a rumbling noise?
Like there's a stampede!
No pushing and shoving!
Don't be silly, no sticking out your tongue,
smallest ones at the front. I sympathise.
It's going to take 10 seconds to expose it,
so you've got to stand still for 10 seconds, is that possible?
Have you ever stood still for 10 seconds in your life?
-Yes, she has.
-This is going to be quite tricky.
-Well, we'll make sure you do.
Stay, stay, stay. We'll stand at the back here.
-OK, listen to Betsy, everyone.
-OK, everyone, quiet.
I'm going to count to three.
At three, I need all of you to be perfectly still for me
until I tell you you can move again.
Does anyone not understand? Good.
Look, kid, stop it.
Do you understand me? Never again.
I think I'll put you on the naughty step.
Not bad for a 150-year-old camera.
So thanks to Fox Talbot, people could capture an image in a camera,
chemically fix it so it wouldn't fade away,
and with his invention of the negative, print lots of copies.
Photography was on its way to taking over the world.
It's the genius top five photo facts.
Five - the most photographed city in the world is New York,
and the most photographed thing is the Empire State Building.
With or without a giant monkey on top.
Four - the most reproduced photo ever is Che Guevara,
the famous revolutionary leader.
It was taken in 1960 and since then has been
reproduced on everything from mugs to T-shirts to buildings.
Three - Apollo astronauts left behind
12 state-of-the-art cameras on the moon.
There was hardly any room on the spaceship
and it was more important to bring back moon rock.
Two - ever been asked to get somebody's good side?
Scientists reckon that the left side of your face is better looking
than your right.
I reckon either's fine, so long as it's not your backside.
One - the most expensive photo ever sold was a print called Rhein II.
For your £2.7 million you got a snap of some grass, some sky,
a bit of river, and that's it.
So photography was really capturing the world,
but because of slow exposure, it meant that you could only take
photographs outdoors in the sunshine with bright light.
If you wanted to take a snap of something
like your dad's dodgy dancing indoors,
then you'd have to wait several years
until the invention of flash photography.
Today, almost every camera has a flash.
But in the early days of photography,
taking pictures indoors was very dangerous.
And we know just the man
to bring old-fashioned explosive flash to life.
Our mate, chemist and genius helper, Professor Andrea Sella.
Andrea, good to be here again.
We need an explosive amount of light to light a photograph.
We thought, "Who better to come to than you?"
Well, that was the real problem in the 19th century -
how you could get a really bright, really fast light.
Remember there was no electricity.
The only thing that was available was chemistry.
Some time around 1870,
people proposed that this reaction here might be used for photography.
I'm going to put... This is going to be a fire. I've got some fuel.
Inside, we actually have the oxidiser, right,
which is going to do...
You can see this bit of colour in there. It stinks a bit.
Do you want to hold the end on really firmly?
Get your hands right round. It might pop off.
Just give it a shake.
Give it a quick shake. It stinks, doesn't it?
This is what came to be known as the barking dog. Get a match.
We've got to get the lights out.
Lights out, please.
Now we're going to light it at the top. You ready?
This is why it's called the barking dog.
The reason is because you have this flame that travels down.
It makes the air inside, the gas inside the tube vibrate.
It's like an organ pipe.
Do you really want to be travelling around with fire?
It doesn't seem like such a brilliant idea.
So today, what we use inside a regular camera
is a tiny capsule that contains a gas called xenon,
which was actually discovered here in London.
When you pass a spark through it, it gives this incredible flash.
In fact, the temperature goes up to about 5,000 degrees.
5,000 degrees in the palm of your hand?
5,000 degrees in the palm of your hand.
Who'd have thought that you were carrying something
so hot around in your pocket?
If you think blowing things up to take pictures isn't very sensible,
check out this other...
Self portraits. Taking pictures of yourself. The selfie.
We've all done it, even Fox Talbot.
I bet he never knew what he was starting.
Miley. Pharell. Justin.
What were you all thinking?
Actually, Justin, we don't want to know what you were thinking.
Just don't think it again.
Photography started with the camera obscura,
the invention of light-sensitive materials
and Fox Talbot's genius breakthrough of the negative.
We want to pay tribute to Fox Talbot with our own genius idea,
so we've come to London to take photos with a difference, using...
-this. A pin.
-All right, be careful.
Sharp. Dangerous. Ouch.
Clearly we have no idea what we're doing, but luckily this man does -
genius pinhole camera maker Justin Quinnell.
-All right, Justin?
-How are you doing? All right?
-Hi there. Yeah.
We've got our pin, but what exactly is a pinhole camera.
A pinhole camera is a camera which makes an image
using a small hole rather than a lens.
You can make them out of anything -
things you'd normally throw away, like your old shoe box.
-You can make a camera out of that?
-Yeah, it's a light-tight container.
-All you need to do is make a small hole in there.
-On the top.
Yes, why not?
Push it in, take it out again. Always handy.
-So this is now the lens of the camera.
There's light travelling through this hole
and making an upside down image on the back inside the box.
So this is similar to a camera obscura.
To capture an image, you have to cover up the hole of the shutter
and get some very special light-sensitive photographic paper.
Similar to what we were using with Betsy.
Then you'd hold the camera up, peel the shutter off.
Light starts travelling through the pinhole.
After a few seconds, it'll make an image.
-So you've taken a photo, genuinely with a shoe box.
You can take photographs with virtually anything.
So long as it traps the light.
Hold on a minute.
-You said something hollow that you could project an image inside.
Aren't we looking at it right here?
Could you get photo paper the size of this?
-You can't use a bin as a camera.
-It's empty now.
-Can you, Justin?
-Put a hole in the front.
-Yeah, we can do it.
Not a pinhole camera, but a bin-hole camera. Genius.
This is it, our genius idea.
We're going to turn a bin into a giant pinhole camera
by drilling a small hole in the front
and putting a big roll of light-sensitive paper inside.
Our challenge, to take some very big photos of a very big city - London.
The problem, it's a bulky old bin with no view finder.
I can't see a thing.
The photos could be rubbish.
Our genius idea will take in all stages of Fox Talbot's
photographic process - developing, fixing...
Well, that'll be up to one man.
Alan Sparrow - genius picture editor of daily newspaper the Metro.
No photo gets in the paper unless Mr Sparrow says so.
OK, boys, I'm a busy fellow,
so we're going to go out and take some pictures today.
This is the very pointy end of the business.
It brings back some fantastic views of London. Some monuments.
I need a celebrity. Someone with the X factor. I need a scoop.
Not a problem. Not a problem.
We want to print these pictures. They're not just for fun.
How many megapixels is your camera?
-What sort of kit are you working with?
Just give us one minute.
Here it is. This is the kit.
It's a pinhole bin camera.
Oh, my word.
With a hole in it.
I'm not sure this is going to work, really, boys.
We've got our work cut out to impress Alan.
-With just one day to get our photos in the can...
..we hit the streets of London.
Oh, we've got to get Nelson's Column in.
Think he'll fit?
The thing is, there's no view finder like you see on a phone
or on any camera. How do you know what you're taking a picture of?
You've got to guess.
We've got to lock the bin so it doesn't move around over
the duration of time, and take the photo.
Oh, so peel off the...
As you'd expect, a pinhole doesn't let much light into the bin, so
it's going to take eight minutes to make the light-sensitive paper react.
And anybody moving won't show up in the photo.
So it will look like Trafalgar Square is empty.
Our pinhole camera is attracting attention and inspiring
its own photo opportunities with cameras that are a lot smaller.
What time are we on?
-That's eight minutes.
-Oh, it's not a real bin.
-It's not a real bin.
-Don't put it in the bin.
-Do not put that in there.
-It's not a real bin.
And now you're standing in front of that.
It's all her fault.
Where's the picture now?
The picture right now is invisibly on a piece of photographic paper.
So it's no good for you lot, is it?
You're used to just going, click, and you can see the picture.
-We have to wait.
-You're pretty sure it worked?
Now we have to change the roll after every shot.
The paper can't be exposed to light,
so we use our hi tech mobile dark room.
Once the exposed paper is out,
we have to put fresh unexposed paper in, ready for the next shot.
-We've got one London landmark in the can.
We even find a Londoner who will stand still for us for eight minutes.
Oi, we said don't move.
But with our deadline pressing,
we're desperate for a celeb to impress Alan back at HQ.
Isn't that guy from X Factor?
Jahmene. Hey, we've both got your album. We love it.
Bring it this way, Justin. Come on.
Yes, it really is X Factor star and chart topper Jahmene Douglas.
We really are going to try to get him to pose in front of a giant bin.
All you have to do is sit totally still over there for eight minutes.
Easy as that.
Go and sit next to those weeds.
This is interesting.
Where do we want it, Justin?
You've got it, yeah. Just next to the weeds. Nice and clean. All right?
All right, let's get it nice and close,
cos we want to get a nice portrait here.
OK. I don't trust you guys.
Lock it off.
Right, Jahmene, very simple.
What's happening right now is your image, as we see it, is being
projected through this tiny little hole, flipped upside down.
Stop talking at him now. He's trying to pose.
I think he thinks something's going to squirt out the hole
into his face.
That's three minutes.
You did remember to put the film in, didn't you?
If this goes right, this picture could be in Metro.
-An actual paparazzi.
-A proper one.
-OK, time's up.
-Time is up.
-You can move.
Put the shutter up. Put the shutter up.
Nothing squirted out the hole, nothing came out the bin.
A fly went into my eye.
-A fly went into my eye. I tried to maintain normal face.
-Try not to cry.
-You're a pro to the end.
Job done. A proper celebrity scoop.
As photoshoots go, that was probably the most awkward one I've done.
Whether or not bin-hole cameras will catch on or not...
We'll see how the picture turns out.
With time running out,
we cross over the river to squeeze in one final photo.
-Whatever you do, don't move.
All this work and just four photos.
They're big, but will they be any good?
I've got an itch.
In the dark room the next morning, it's the moment of truth.
Has our bin-hole camera even worked?
We follow Fox Talbot's ground-breaking process,
and the chemicals develop our images.
There's something here.
We fix the images so they don't disappear, but the big question
is will our photos be good enough to print in a national newspaper?
It's back to the newspaper offices for Alan's verdict.
Don't you let me down.
-Hi again, Alan.
-OK, let's have a look.
-This is Trafalgar Square.
-It's not Trafalgar Square at night.
This is a negative at the moment.
Everyone seems to be in motion around the picture.
That happens because each photo takes so long to take,
if you're moving, you're a blur.
This next shot, the light wasn't actually as good.
We were at the London Eye.
The only person that's there is Rich. He looks like a ghost.
-It's really interesting.
The problem is, here, it was too sunny,
so it's been totally overexposed.
We need to pull something special out of the bag to save the day.
You asked for someone with the X factor.
I reckon we've pretty much delivered what you asked for.
That is actually Jahmene from The X Factor.
Really? That's very, very good.
He was a very patient sitter then.
Right, so, the big question is, do you think you will print
any of these photos in your paper?
Well, let's make sure we can find a positive, see how it goes
and see if any of these can make it for the grade for the paper.
-No promises yet. You have to talk to your team.
-I think so.
Thank you very much.
So it's a maybe from Alan
until he sees the positive versions of our photos.
That's where the genius of the negative is revealed.
Big Ben and the London Eye.
A human statue.
And a pop star with the X factor.
It's been an incredible journey. We've been inside a camera obscura.
We've experimented with chemicals.
And discovered the power of the negative.
All thanks to Mr William Henry Fox Talbot.
Well, the good news is that Alan has decided to print
a couple of the pictures that we took using the bin-hole camera.
There we are. This is a dummy copy.
This is what it's going to look like in the paper.
It's crazy to think that we fixed, developed and printed pictures
using Fox Talbot's original methods.
So, William Fox Talbot, we thank you. You are an absolute genius.
DOM SCREAMS It smacked me in the face.
What are you doing?!
Let me get it straight.
But what's all that?! What's all the black stuff?
Dick and Dom reveal the genius of Fox Talbot, a pioneer of photography. Inspired by him, they come up with their own genius idea when they turn a bin into a giant pinhole camera.