During the early days when photography was newly invented, it was anyone’s game. The medium was a fresh frontier, ripe for innovating, and as far as “best practices that every photographer should know” went, the rule book was still being written. The creative opportunities that cameras presented attracted amateur artists and professionals alike.

Many creatives who’d spent their lives honing skills in other areas — like literature and painting — dipped their toes in photography’s waters. While some of these experiments went well, others were trial and error, and none were more interesting than the attempts made by one Swedish innovator.

August Strindberg chased the truth of what it meant to be human. Born in January 1849 in Stockholm, Sweden, the man was an acclaimed playwright, painter, novelist, and poet. He was fascinated by human experience and often drew on his own life to find meaning.

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Strindberg had a tumultuous personal life. During his formative years, he showed interest in sciences, arts, and religion, but he moved often and attended several schools, one of which was particularly harsh and scarred his mind well into adulthood.

He later described his childhood as one overshadowed by “emotional insecurity, poverty, religious fanaticism and neglect” — due possibly in part to the coldness his mother showed him, as he felt she resented his intellect.

August Strindberg

When Strindberg was thirteen, his mother died. Their hot-and-cold relationship carried on into her death: he grieved her briefly, but for only three months. Later on, however, he came to long for his loss, and romanticized the idea of having a maternal presence in his life.

Kungliga biblioteket / Flickr

Strindberg was also an innovator and experimenter. His unique writing methods gave rise to the modern era of Swedish literature, and he was never content to create art the same way as his contemporaries, preferring instead to push boundaries.

National Library of Sweden

His paintings in particular were noted for their expressionism and reluctance to stay within the confines of “visual reality”; while many of his peers painted true-to-life images, Strindberg, who was friends with the likes of Edvard Munch, did not.

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Rather, he chose to paint only when he was feeling strongly emotional. The results were stormy landscapes, often of the ocean, clouds, or craggy hills, and were later regarded as some of the most original art produced in the 19th century.

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In the 1890s, Strindberg became interested in photography “to save [his] talent as a writer.” He began taking self-portraits and photographs of his friends and children. For a while, he was content with producing formal seated portraits in the style of the time.

National Library of Sweden

But Strindberg wanted as few intermediaries as possible between the object being photographed and the photographic emulsion. He saw lenses as obstructions that would distort the true nature of what was photographed; in his mind, even the lens in the human eye was faulty.

At first, Strindberg ventured out from lens photography into the realm of pinhole cameras and photograms. Pinhole cameras worked by allowing light to reach an emulsion directly through a tiny hole in the side of an otherwise lightproof container.

National Library of Sweden

That wasn’t good enough, though. In his everlasting search for immediacy and authenticity, he deemed the pinhole cameras too fiddly and complex, requiring too much manipulation with a process that was too easy to mess up.

National Library of Sweden

So Strindberg sought out to try something he’d never done before. In the winter of 1893, he hiked out to a clear hill under a starry sky with a tub of developer and several fresh emulsion plates.

Strindbergsmuseet

There, he removed the plates from their light-protective covering and laid them face-up in the tub of developer, so that they could both expose and be developed all at once. After some time, he re-covered them and brought them back to his study.

National Library of Sweden

To anyone but Strindberg, this seemed like a bad idea. At best, the plates should develop blank: either it would be too dark for any light to impact the plate, or — with no lens to focus the light — any light present would affect the entire plate simultaneously.

National Library of Sweden

Strindberg was undeterred, though. When he pulled the plates out of the developer, they were covered with little sparkles and specks and blotches, which surprisingly mirrored the constellations and nebulas seen in a night sky.

National Library of Sweden

He was delighted and proud. “I have worked like a devil and have traced the movements of the moon and the real appearance of the firmament on a laid-out photographic plate, independent from our misleading eye,” he wrote to a friend.

National Library of Sweden

For the next 19 years until he died, Strindberg maintained the belief that he’d discovered something groundbreaking in what he called his “celestographs.” After his death, researchers confirmed that the images were simply chemigrams: a result of developer chemicals themselves reacting with the photographic plates.

National Library of Sweden

As years passed, the plates continued to develop, and the chemical stains morphed larger. It was apparent that the “nebulas” and “galaxies” seen on the plates were developer errors — or in some cases, residual fingerprints from Strindberg, whose oils had affected the emulsion.

National Library of Sweden

Where are the celestographs now? They can be viewed online, along with Strindberg’s notes on their backs, through the National Library of Sweden’s Flickr archive. As far as the physical plates themselves, though, no one knows where they are — they’ve gone missing for now.

National Library of Sweden

However, until the celestographs turn up again, Strindberg left plenty of other work behind to enjoy. He was a much better writer and painter than he was a photographer…but sometimes artists just have to try new things and see what happens!

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Just as Strindberg’s friend, Edvard Munch, did with The Scream. A paint and pastel composition from 1893, the work is instantly recognizable, though most casual art aficionados don’t grasp the artist’s true intentions.

Edvard Munch / Wikimedia Commons

Edvard Munch emerged as one of the most daringly talented Expressionists the world had ever seen. The Norwegian scraped the darkest depths of his psyche and emotions for inspiration, and he had no shortage of material.

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His family life was enveloped in tragedy. Tuberculosis took the lives of Edvard’s mother and his sister Johanne Sophie, causing the boy to become increasingly withdrawn. He had his drawings to comfort him, but little else brightened Munch’s world.

His father was a callous religious fanatic. Munch even reflected, “From him I inherited the seeds of madness.” And that was no exaggeration, as Edvard battled depression while one of his sisters entered a mental asylum.

Fortunately, he escaped his father’s clutches and became a celebrated international artist. Pushing the boundaries of expression and experimentation, Munch went where no other painters dared. It was clear that his deep-rooted trauma influenced his subject matter.

APIC/Getty Images

One of his most celebrated works, for example, is The Sick Child. It clearly references the terminal illness of his beloved sister and the family’s struggle to cope. So is The Scream another attempt for Munch to process this tragedy?

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Well, the answer isn’t so simple. For starters, The Scream wasn’t a singular work as much as it was a constantly evolving series. Munch produced four different versions of the scene, in addition to a lithograph copy — all of which started out with a different title.

Edvard Munch

Originally, he called his pieces The Scream of Nature. During a hike in 1892, the artist was struck by a blood red sunset, likely intensified by the Krakatoa eruption halfway across the world. To Munch, it seemed like an epic communication of the Earth’s pain.

Ricardo Cuppini / Flickr

Art historians also argue that Munch was inspired by a visit to a Paris museum. In his diary, he made note of a Peruvian mummy in a glass case, with its face forever twisted into an expression of horror.

Sam Scholes / Flickr

Then again, it could be metaphorical. Munch said The Scream was “the study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self,” and it depicts a despairing soul unable to go on with life and perhaps about to jump off of a bridge. But one thing was clear.

The Scream became an undeniable success. Speaking volumes to both the expert and the layman, Munch’s masterpiece spread like wildfire during the 20th century. Everyone had something to say about it.

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Vendors printed t-shirts with the image emblazoned on the front. Cartoons parodied the gaping facial expression. Andy Warhol added splashes of color to Munch’s versions and displayed them worldwide. The painting also inspired a classic film.

In Scream, Wes Craven modeled the mask of the killer — nicknamed Ghostface — on Munch’s iconic work. The painting was a cash cow for many artists. But such valuable artwork also attracted seedier characters.

Woods Entertainment

In 1994, The Scream was stifled. When Norway turned all its attention to the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, a group of criminals snuck inside Oslo’s National Gallery in the dead of night.

Asmund Hanslien

They shocked the world by stealing one of Munch’s masterworks. To brag about how effortless the heist was, the thieves left a note that read, “Thanks for the poor security.” Norwegian authorities were outraged.

Police caught the criminals and returned the artwork weeks later, but even then, no copy of The Scream was safe. In 2006, armed men stormed into another gallery and snatched a copy off the wall. A surprising ally offered to help with the recovery.

Lise Aserud

Mars, Inc somehow decided it would be good promotion to offer a reward. Anyone who found The Scream would earn a grand prize of 2.2 million M&M candies. The company’s phones rang almost nonstop.

Chattanooga Free Times Press

Astonishingly, one of the criminals contacted Mars with the information! He’d already been caught and was trying to land the candy stash as part of his plea deal. But rather than showering a thief in chocolate, the company gave the prize to Norwegian police.

Mars, Inc. / YouTube

With so many attempts to wrest the painting away from the proper owners, gambling dens have even placed bets on the next time that The Scream will be stolen. Many predicted another heist in 2012, as the masterpiece approached a major event.

EMI

A copy of The Scream racked up a record-setting price tag of $120 million at a Sotheby’s auction. That’s enough to make anyone scream. A few years later, the auction house witnessed an even more shocking sale.

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On October 5th, 2018, Sotheby’s in London was busy preparing for an auction. This itself was nothing remarkable. After all, that was their business. But the auction that day was special…

Sotheby’s are the experts when it comes to selling priceless works of art. They have been doing it for hundreds of years, but this day was going to be particularly special and the beginning of a new chapter.

They were auctioning off a rare piece by today’s most relevant street artist: Banksy. This is one artist who probably never expected to find his work being sold off to a wealthy bidder at a private auction house.

Since the 1990s, he has made a name for himself with works that subvert artistic conventions and skewer various aspects of society. Chances are you’ve seen his work already even if you don’t know it.

Flickr / Ganzelka

Almost nobody knows who Banksy is. His real identity is a carefully guarded secret that likely will never come to light. You would think that would be something that would hamper his rising celebrity, but that’s not the case.

And even though his anonymity prevents him from doing interviews or having a social media presence, it certainly adds to his allure. Countless articles have been written about him, and even a documentary was about his work.

Many theorists name Bristol artist Robin Cunningham as the likeliest candidate for Banksy, but all the dots still don’t connect. It’s quite possible, in fact, that ‘Banksy’ may be multiple people collaborating under a single name.

Banksy is most famous for his graffiti — a copy of which was going on sale at Sotheby’s. His clever pieces go far beyond tagging his name on a brick wall. Instead, they have a biting visual message.

Flickr / Laura Munday

His minimalist works often blend in seamlessly with the urban landscape. In fact, that’s what makes them so darn compelling. They stop you in your tracks and make you look twice.

Banksy has the unique ability to transform any ordinary object into politically charged art. Sometimes he accomplishes this feat with just a few words…

So it’s no surprise that so many collectors were chomping at the bit to buy their very own Banksy. They hungrily eyed the prize as the bids climbed up to one million dollars and beyond.

These high rollers were competing to get their hands on one of Banksy’s most famous murals, Balloon Girl. Many critics consider it to be among the greatest works of art in the United Kingdom.

But this version of Balloon Girl had one feature that the original lacked. Inside the frame, Banksy secretly lined the bottom of the painting with motorized blades. What was he planning?

Well, the exact instant the painting sold — with a final price tag of $1.4 million — the booby-trapped frame shredded the painting to piecesNobody in attendance could wrap their minds around what had just occurred. What kind of artist would destroy his own work?

Instagram / Banksy

Just because the painting is in tatters, however, doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Like so many other famous works of art, a little bit of damage might not be as damaging to the value as you might think!

Art seller Steve Lazarides, one of the few individuals in Banksy’s inner circle, suggested that the shredded version of Balloon Girl may even be worth more than the original.

The Art Newspaper

Though some members of the art community criticized the move as a cruel prank, others are now calling it one of Banksy’s greatest demonstrations ever. Perhaps only one other stunt could rival its originality and shock value…

myartbroker.com

Banksy made headlines around the world in 2015 by curating the Dismaland installation. The site utilized dozens of pieces to construct a ‘sinister twist’ on the Disney franchise and theme parks in general.

Dismaland welcomed over 150,000 in its temporary run. Guests could enjoy — or at least tolerate — attractions such as a rundown princess castle, a museum of dangerous objects, and purposely unfair games like ‘topple the anvil with a ping pong ball.’

It’s clear that when it comes to art Banksy isn’t content to let the status quo stand. From bizarre theme parks staffed by strange characters like the ones below to destroying his own art, he’s always looking to up the ante.