Photography is older than you think, and today we’ll lead you through its history in a friendly and brief way. Nevertheless, we want to encourage you into digging deeper in the history of the particular genres that you find more interesting or appealing to you.
Photography is one of those disciplines that behaves in a very odd way, every time a new genre sees the light for the first time, it keeps developing itself almost forever. Nowadays there are 90 officially recognized photographic genres, although some of them have slowly fade a little bit like port-mortem photography or pictorialism.
The Birth of Photography
Photography could not exist without its close relationship with optics, the branch of physics that describes the behavior of light. It was Alhazen (c.965-c.1040) who first introduced the concept of camera in optics; which was later refined by Giambattista della Porta (c.1535-1615). But it was not until the nineteenth century that the camera became something more than a just a simple viewing device. It was thanks to Niépce (1826-1827), Daguerre (1787-1851) and Fox Talbot (1800-1877) that this instrument was actually able to create static images that could last “forever”.
In its beginnings, photography was considered to be a diabolical act, so its relationship with the visual arts wasn’t very good. If you don’t believe us, just read the following quote by Max Dauthendey in his book Der Geist meines Vaters published in 1840:
“Pretending to fix fleeting mirages is not only impossible, as it has already been proven by German thinkers; but the mere desire to propose it, is already a blasphemy. Man has been created in the image and likeness of God and no human machine can fix the divine image.”
In the nineteenth century, photography pushed portraits closer to the people, and that was the new era of immediate images begun. With photography, the virtuous work of painting and sculpture to render reality was simply obsolete; and it was forced to venture into various creative roads that are currently impossible for photography to reach.
Photography in the Nineteenth Century
There are two major periods when it comes to the nineteenth-century in photography. The first one is the Experimental Period (1826-1855) in which inventors and photographers understood the capabilities of a photographic camera and the photosensitive emulsions. Then it is the age of the Photographic Commerce (1856-1899) in which the professional photographer discipline arouse.
During the commercial stage of the nineteenth century, photographers made their living out of creating mostly portraits and specific assignments from certain institutions. An example of the many photographers that lived during this time were Albert Southworth (1811-1894) and Josiah Hawes (1808-1901), who together produced several high quality photographs at their famous studio.
Photography in the Twentieth Century
Here is where things went nuts, and is virtually impossible to just enlist photographers like in the past century. A lot of talented photographers built this huge stage of the history of photography. Just like in the nineteenth century, we can divide things into 2 big blocks, first there is the Modern era of Photography (1900-1945), and then there is what has been called to be “from postwar to the permissive society” (1946-1976).
A lot of genres bloomed here, and just to mention a few there are:
- Vernacular Photography (1900-present)
- Urban Photography (1900-present)
- Abstract Photography (1903-present)
- War Photography (1903-present)
- Straight Photography (1904-present)
- Social Photography (1904-present)
- Color Photography (1907-present)
- Fashion Photography (1909-present)
- Advertisement Photography (1910-present)
- Surrealism (1919-present)
- Documentary Photography (1929-present)
And the list goes on and on…
World War II works as a binder between the aforementioned stages of photography during the twentieth century. After the bloody encounters of World War II “ended” in 1945, photography got closer to reaching the exhaustedly debated and even longed state of Fine Art.
Many other genres appeared, and are still not only alive today but very vibrant too. Two of the most iconic things that happened to photography during this second part of the twentieth century were the birth of the Magnum Photo Agency in 1947 thanks to the effort of various photographers, and the first ever exhibition dedicated exclusively to photography in the Museum of Modern Art in 1967. Elevating photography to the exquisite spheres of Fine Art was a true milestone for photography, and the great fuss happened thanks to the bold and risky move made by the one and only, John Szarkowski.
After 1977 Contemporary Photography became an actual thing and is still pretty strong nowadays.
Photography in the Twenty First Century
A lot in the world of photography has already been done, and we are living in a moment in time where serious photographers need to develop concepts that are be able to sustain and even justify their work. Digital photography revolutionized photography in an unprecedented way. There are still many genres and more photographers than ever. Some thinkers have started to talk about the liquid stage of photography thanks to its non-physical nature (images reside in the cloud rather than the photo album), and many others have started making hypothesis about what will be the next step in the history of photography.
Many people are extremely pessimistic about the current state of photography, but we think that things shouldn’t be gloomy at all. We love photography, and we are aware that it has been extremely democratized thanks to the appearance not only of the digital cameras, but also with the boom of smartphones with extremely powerful photographic capabilities. We are sure that there are still some pretty awesome things to see in the history of photography.
If somebody asks us about a single tip to give out to newcomers in the world of photography, it will be this, “don’t rush”. People need to practice a lot, and stop rushing into the act of publishing everything online. Only by doing that, photography will keep its beautiful aura which is capable of producing extremely pleasant aesthetic experiences, and not just a simple reaction via a thumb or a heart.
Author: Federico Alegría
Requested by: www.dadandsonphotography.com