For nearly 200 years, photography has not only been able to capture still images of moments in our world, but also the deep fascination of an audience since its inception.
It is a form of media that bestows upon us the ability to seize an instant from our lives and keep it forever as a tangible visual memory. It marries technology and artform, transcending the limitations of categorization and time. We are able to take a glimpse into an era past, places that we have never been to, and people we have never met. Because of this, photography is consistently able to reach and captivate audiences across the globe.
Perhaps without realizing it, photography is plays such an omnipresent role in our modern lives that it needs no defining. Today we see it everywhere we go, in the form of family portraits, advertisements, product packaging, social media posts, as well as in artistic spaces like galleries and museums, and more. It is hard to believe that it is relatively and extremely new form of media.
There were many early technologies that later combined and led up to the invention of the camera as we know it today, but the first practical photographic process was presented in 1839 by Louis Daguerre, and named the Daguerreotype, inciting international sensation. In the following decades, many people would work individually and in collaboration in order to greatly improve the process at a rapid rate. Initially these photographs were only able to be produced in monochrome; Autochrome, the first commercially successful colored photography process was introduced in 1907 by the Lumière Brothers, however the inexpensive nature of black and white photography saw its endurance and domination of the market until decades later.
As we do today, people who lived during the first decades of the availability of photography wished to own images of themselves, their family, and loved ones. Whereas previously such a thing would only be possible for the wealthy who could afford to have portraits painted, people quickly realized the potential for portraiture in photography and studios began to pop up all over the world.
This began a long lasting conflict between whether or not photography was art. Artists that worked in traditional methods saw photography as a threat to their craft, and dismissed it as not being real art since it was produced via machine, and rejected it as a method altogether. Others thought it could be used to aid artists in using references for their work but could not stand as art on its own. However there were those that even in its early days recognized the potential of photography as a means of expressing creativity and expression.
The Pictorialist Movement consisted of photographers that would stage their sets, having models pose in dramatic stances like figures in a painting might, deliberately setting up the backgrounds and lighting to aid in the image’s visual effect, and also manipulating the phototypes in the dark room. They often produced very atmospheric, hazy, and painterly looking images resembling the style of painters like James Whistler.
In America, the Photo-Secessionists argued that photography was art because of the photographer’s control over the creation of the image and its employment to express a vision. They advocated strongly for photography to be recognized, founding photographic societies, publishing periodicals, and organizing juried photography exhibitions. In 1910, the “Buffalo Show’ was exhibited at Albright Gallery in Buffalo, New York and firmly established photography as a true form of art.
In the end, photography did have a positive effect on the development of the fine arts. Not only did it emerge as its own category of artwork, but the ready availability of photorealistic images encouraged artists to explore other approaches to painting and sculpture such as impressionism, expressionism, and abstractism.
As the 20th century progressed, new photography movements continued to emerge, adapting and innovating modernistic ideas. It also completely changed our commercial world and consumer culture by effectively infiltrating every single way in which we communicate a visual idea to an audience. These messages are conveyed to us by images in magazines, restaurant menus, food wrappers, product tags, and much more. By the turn of the century, computer programs like Photoshop became readily available to photographers, enabling ease of even further manipulation and alteration of images. The spread of the internet and social media has ever further promulgated the influence of photography as it provides a platform for the entire world to see, and the mere pressing of a button on a phone enables us to immortalize a moment forever. It is by no means of chance that the influence of photography remains relevant as an artform and an everyday part of life, and will likely continue to enrapture and transport its global audience for generations to come.