Locked away in his lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Meryland, professor of optical physics Robert W. Wood was working on an experiment to replicate the way fish see underwater. It was 1906, and his tools were a bucket full of water, a pinhole camera, a mirror glass, and lots of light, essential accessories that wouldn’t stop Wood from discovering and inventing what would become known in the world. history of photography under the name of fish eye.
After its first scientific uses, the image distortion created with the fish-eye will become perfect for representing in photography the hippie psychedelia of the 1960s and the rock rebellion of the years to come. Hip-hop will use the fish-eye aesthetic for album covers and videos, as will sports, leveraging its ability to best capture the energy of freestyle and outdoor disciplines.
In 1911 Robert W. Wood succeeded in publishing “Physical Optics“, the book bringing together his research in optics, but the fish-eye remained for a long time an exclusivity for scientists leaning on test tubes and microorganisms.
This was not the case until 1935 that a patent has been filed for a circular lens that uses glass instead of water as the distorting surface. The patent was filed jointly with the Japanese company Nikon, but again it took more than two decades before the discovery became affordable. Perhaps it is too much to say “affordable”, since the first lens put on sale in 1957 Cost $27,000.
The final arrival in stores five years later delivered the fisheye to the artistic, musical, sporting and journalistic culture of the 1900s, now that even amateur or semi-professional photographers could finally take pictures with this particular sight. at 180 degrees.
From the beginning of the 1960s, photographers produced important portraits and political and artistic reports, witnesses of historical events such as the American elections or the albums of great artists such as the Beatles and Rolling Rock; it was in 66 that the cover of Big Hits (high tide and green grass) in which Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones are shot with the fish-eye.
Going through fish-eye history isn’t all rock. The psychedelic 60s and hippies could reproduce with the wide angle the distortion of reality caused by hallucinogens, while hip-hop, from the 90s, this ability to have a more street, irreverent and if necessary funny point of view, in which the sur – the camera looks of artists such as Notorius BIG, Beastie Boys and Busta Rhymes have been further improved.
Panoramic views of breathtaking locations and even the first photos taken on Mars, the fisheye has a history that has taken it from a scientific marvel to a peephole through which to look through more than half a century of artistic and cultural history.