In 2016, photography hardly seems a notable topic of discussion when photographers, photographs, and phone cameras abound in almost every facet of daily life. A brief glance at any Facebook page could tell you that photography is no longer the spectacle it once was. Though photography is no longer as rare as it once was, photography is more important than ever to our lives. Just take another look at that same Facebook page and the prevalence of pictures will no doubt confirm the fact that photography at every level is alive and well.
But how did the photograph become such an essential must-have for any individual’s mantelpiece, photo album, or Instagram profile? Here, we will explore the history of photography and how it has “developed” over the years.
The year 1826 marks the date of the first successful photograph ever taken. Joseph Nicéphone Niépce is credited with the invention. The photograph depicts the view from the upstairs window of Niépce’s estate in France and was taken on a pewter plate after over eight hours of exposure. By 1839, photography in the form of the daguerreotype process – invented by Louis Jacques Mondé Daguerre – was commercially introduced and took far less exposure time than its earlier kin. These daguerreotypes were incredibly popular as demand for portraits in the middle class grew and photographs became increasingly more accessible and affordable for the average person. Improvements in photography caused a decrease of exposure time from minutes to seconds. New methods of photography invented by George Eastman in 1884 saw the move from metal and glass based photographs to those captured on paper. This made photography more accessible and affordable than ever before. The invention of the Kodak camera by Eastman in 1888 marked the beginning of an era where the everyday person could be a photographer and leave the complicated chemistry of developing the photo to someone else.
Colour photography was first invented in 1848 by Edmond Becquerel – a mere 22 years after the first photograph was taken – but resulting photographs were too light-sensitive for viewing and required hours or days of exposure to provide even the slightest picture. Further improvements on the process saw a wider range of colours and a decreased exposure time. But it took until the 1980s for colour photography to unseat its black and white predecessor as the dominant medium for daily photographic use and has continued as the most popular mode until today.
Although the photographic process that most use in our digital world of 2016 is much different than that of the early 1800s, it owes its existence to its first ancestors of photography. So the next time you take a selfie, remember the 190 years of history behind it.