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Photography is the result of combining several technical discoveries. Long before the first photographs were made, ancient Han Chinese philosopher Mo Di from the Mohist School of Logic was the first to discover and develop the scientific principles of optics, camera obscura, and pinhole camera. Later Greek mathematicians Aristotle and Euclid also independently described a pinhole camera in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. In the 6th century CE, Byzantine mathematician Anthemius of Tralles used a type of camera obscura in his experiments. Both the Han Chinese polymath Shen Kuo (1031–95) and Arab physicist Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) (965–1040) independently invented the camera obscura and pinhole camera, Albertus Magnus (1193–1280) discovered silver nitrate, and Georg Fabricius (1516–71) discovered silver chloride. Shen Kuo explains the science of camera obscura and optical physics in his scientific work Dream Pool Essays while the techniques described in Ibn al-Haytham's Book of Optics are capable of producing primitive photographs using medieval materials.

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