Photography 101: A Short History of the Photograph
In these modern times, cameras are everywhere. Whether it’s a tiny digital you keep in your pocket or a medium format monstrosity you use for a hobby, cameras have become an integral part of human life. With that in mind, let’s take a trip down memory lane and talk a bit about where modern photography came from and what it has meant to our civilization.
One of the most amazing things about photographs is how heavily we depend on them to record our history and tell our stories, considering the fact that chemical photography is a relatively new science. The first permanent photo was created as recently as 1825 using pewter plates and a substance called “bitumen,” and later photographs were printed on glass. Paper didn’t actually become common until around 1888 thanks to the innovations of George Eastman.
In 1901, the Kodak Brownie camera was introduced to the public. This was the first time that photography was so easily accessible to the public, in terms of ease of use and cost. It was during this period of time that film developing really took off as an industry. It’s incredible to think that something like getting film developed or emailing digital images, which we take for granted today, was a completely new concept just 100 years ago. The modern SLR camera has only been around for about 80 years, and even in that time frame it hasn’t changed too much in terms of construction.
While black and white photography hasn’t changed much since the early 1900’s, color film has experienced dramatic advancements over this brief period of time. Though color photography had always been a concept chased by early photographers, color film and printing did not become widely accessible until well into the 20th century. Kodak’s “Kodachrome” was introduced around 1935, but it would be a while before color film became the norm. One interesting thing about color film advancement is looking at how black and white film is still in wide use despite the introduction of color photographs; how many people do you know that still have a black and white television?
Of course, no discussion of photo history would be complete without discussing the digital revolution. This technology, which feels so familiar to us, has only been in wide use for about 15 years. The first “megapixel” sensor wasn’t even developed until 1986, and now it’s one of the most common words of our technological vocabulary. Though digital photography hasn’t changed how we take pictures (point and shoot), it has had a huge impact in how we share our photographs with the world.
Photography is one of the primary ways in which we document our lives. A picture can be as simple as remembering a birthday party or as important as increasing awareness about a conflict on the other side of the world. They help add emotion and weight to the words of reporters as well as preserve our living history for generations to come. Every picture we take is living proof of human achievements, relationships, strengths, and weaknesses.