The history of photography
Cameras are built into our phones and have become an integral part of our social lives. With a click of a button, we expect to be able to take an instant photo of an exact moment in time for future viewing. This has not always been the case.
Where it began: 1820-40s
The beginning of “photography” is debatable, as the camera obscura had been around since the 11th century. However, back then, cameras only projected an image onto a wall rather than record a scene.
The first true photograph, as we know it today, was taken in 1826 by an amateur French inventor named Nicéphore Niépce, who used a light-sensitive solution exposed to the sun to create copies of engravings. This process was known as “heliography,” which translates to “sun drawing.” Its most significant drawback was the long exposure time that could take up to eight hours to produce a photo.
Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre then built upon this process in the 1830s using a plate of iodized silver that could be developed and made visible. It shortened exposure time from hours to just thirty minutes. This new process was praised for its remarkable retention of detail and its fidelity and was named “Daguerreotype” after its inventor. This also became the main predecessor to modern films as we know it.
Consumer-level film cameras: 1880-1960s
Initially, due to the complicated processes behind photography, the art was reserved for the rich and wealthy or the professional. This was until a company named Kodak was started in the 1880s, best known today for its photo printing services. Its founder George Eastman developed rolls of film that were flexible and did not require constant changing as Daguerre’s emulsion plates did.
The first cameras that Kodak released were self-contained boxes with a lens and no additional features on it. It allowed photography to become portable, as its consumers can take photos and send them back to Kodak to develop and make prints, similar to today’s disposable cameras.
The late 1940s came around, and 35mm film, exactly as we know it today, became cheap enough for the majority of consumers to use. And at the same time as this development, the world also saw the birth of instant photos with the famous Polaroid company. By the late-1960s, they were widespread enough for the price to plateau at an acceptable range for the average household to own, too.
The birth of smart cameras: 1980-today
Fast forward twenty years, using light sensors and some basic electronic wiring, cameras were able to make creative decisions on their own. Their ability to now take control of shutter speed, aperture, and focus became increasingly popular with casual shooters and families, as they required no training to use, and were fast and hassle-free to operate.
Another twenty or so years into the future, digital cameras became a reality, as camera manufacturers explored storing photos digitally. This development brings us to today, as camera technology has not changed significantly, except for improved focus speed, and larger, more detailed images.
Using light sensors and some basic electronic wiring, cameras were able to make creative decisions on their own
Interestingly, the photography community has recently been observing a comeback of film photography. Maybe with a hint of nostalgia or an appreciation for the retro aesthetic, people have been turning back to film. The handful of film manufacturers still active today, such as Kodak, Fuji, and Ilford, have been trying to understand why.
For one, polaroids have always been popular with the younger population, as their physical, one-of-a-kind quality provides their owners with a photograph with more sentimental value. On another part, companies like Kodak and Lomography have both been consistent in rolling out new products for the film community, keeping the art alive. Perhaps this could be the “film renaissance” that the community has been talking about for so long.
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