Through The Lens: The Evolution Of The Art Of Photography

The art world is in a constant state of flux, evolving and metamorphosing, allowing itself to be added to and subtracted from, shaken and stirred, all for the pursuit of human expression.

Since its inception, photography especially has been one of its most revolutionary additions, changing the way we see ourselves and the world.
Here’s a short timeline of how it became an everyday reality.

It all most likely began in China with the Camera Obscura, a box with a hole in one side through which the light would pass through, casting itself on the inside of the box and making an inverted image.

In around 1826, Joseph Nicephore Niepce produced what is believed to be the oldest surviving photograph (a heliograph) from a window of his estate in France.

He took a small piece of polished pewter coated with a solution of bitumen and lavender oil that he placed in the Obscura from anywhere between eight hours to several days. It resulted in this:

Shortly thereafter, he partnered with a Parisian artist named Louis Daguerre improved upon his method, reduced the lengthy exposure time and developed the Daguerreotype. He shared his invention with the world on August 19th, 1839.

His claim to the title of “First Photo Guy in History” was, however, contested by a couple of others, including a certain Hippolyte Bayard.
Bayard claimed to have invented the Direct Positive method where the images produced were developed and viewed on the same silver chloride paper on which they were exposed. To prove his point, Bayard produced what is considered to be the first staged photograph in the world in 1840.  It was titled “Self Portrait of a Drowned Man”.

Thus began the next phase in the evolution of photography, the imaging of humans.

In the Spring of 1838, Daguerre produced a photograph of the bustling Boulevard du Temple in Paris.


Because of the long exposure time, only two people (the man having his boots shined and the shiner) remained still long enough to be recorded in the photo. Though they didn’t know it, they were the first humans to be photographed in history.

This image is considered to be the first intentional portrait of a human being and the first selfie…ever. It was clicked by Robert Cornelius in 1839, who refined the Daguerreotype process using his knowledge of chemistry and metallurgical composition.

Next came the era of highly detailed and reproducible photography.

Around 1850  a sculptor named Frederick Scott Archer decided that the current images produced by the talbotype/calotype process weren’t good enough to properly capture his work. So he developed the collodion process.

The tintype process, patented around 1856, evolved from there. Most “old-timey” classical images from the Victorian era were made using this process.

For the first time, photographers were capable of producing images in a matter of minutes and the prints were also much more durable than any other photographs. They could also be carried in coat pockets and ladies handbags, which I think, was a true victory for matchmakers all over!

In 1861, using the concepts set forth by J.C. Maxwell, Thomas Sutton produced the first known colour photograph.

In 1871,  Dr. Richard L. Maddox introduced a method simply using “gelatin dry plates” that were small and commercially available.

In 1889, photographer and industrialist George Eastman invented film that was flexible, unbreakable, and could be rolled. He was one of the co-founders of Kodak.

Around 1891, Gabriel Lippmann developed a process based on the interference of light wave propagation by which colour photographs could be produced and viewed in normal light without the print fading.

Smaller cameras such as the Kodak Brownie, introduced in February 1900, could now be used to make images that were more candid and personal. It was the best thing ever.

Until Oskar Barnack of Germany invented the Leica, that is. Because it used a 35mm Kodak film, the camera was incredibly compact.

Kodak Kodachrome colour film, the industry standard in photography, was introduced in 1935.

In 1950, Edwin Land developed a “two-colour process” that became the basis for Polaroid’s enormous success.

Earthrise, the photograph of the Earth was taken from the moon in 1968.

Polaroid introduced one-step instant photography with the SX-70 camera in 1973.

In 1978, Konica introduced “Jasupin”, the first point-and-shoot, autofocus camera.

At the turn of the century, the ever-practical field of professional photography gradually lost interest in Kodachrome film as digital photography evolved.

Today, our cell phones pack cameras that surpass any imaging technology we had growing up. We’re definitely lucky to benefit from the decades of knowledge passed down by the shutterbugs before us.

So I’ll leave you with just one question: Has that really made us better photographers?

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Posted by

Amanda Francesca Mendonça

After spending pretty much all of my teen years waiting for a Hogwarts letter that never came, I gave up and settled for being a wizard with words instead. A hopeless romantic, when I’m not penning down short stories, I’m busy imagining my own happily ever after.

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