Photography: The Flash that Changed the World

This was a flash that suddenly made everything different. We’re not talking about the “Big Bang”, but rather another new phenomenon that also changed our history: photography.

Since 1838, when the first Daguerreotype appeared, photos have had a huge impact on our lives. There was a time when only a few people might see themselves immortalized on paper. But now, in present times, an image not only helps us to remember but also to connect with the whole world.

In this article, we will talk about how this process also changed our history.

Beginnings of Photography

Niépce. This name may not ring a bell for you, even though its the name of the man who invented the first photographic process. In 1824, he was able to capture images by spreading bitumen of Judea on a silver plate and exposing it to light for several days.

After teaming up with Jacques Daguerre, in 1832 they managed to reduce the exposure time to a single day. Can you imagine having to wait a whole day for a photo? Nevertheless, these steps were vital to getting us to where we are today.

Around1838, after Niépce’s death, Daguerre invented what is considered the father of the camera: the Daguerreotype. One of the major advances it introduced was the incorporation of the developing process. From that moment on, everything changed.

Perhaps the best way to understand the changes that photography has brought about in our history is to look at a timeline of the years in which certain events took place.

1839: Smile and Say Cheese

Well, smiling may not have been seen much at that time, nor in the years that followed. And neither was saying cheese. But this date was very important.

One of the pioneers in the art of photography, Robert Cornelius, decided to try something new. What would happen if he pointed the lens at himself, and tried the Daguerreotype process? The result: the first selfie in history.

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Copyright: Robert Cornelius, self-portrait, October or November 1839

As you can see, the selfie phenomenon, which exploded with the emergence of certain social networks, had already been with us for almost 200 years. All thanks to the fact that one of the first photographers in history decided to make himself the protagonist, instead of just looking through the lens.

This idea was not only the basis for selfies but also gave birth to photographed portraits. This made it possible to see iconic figures from history for the first time. Like the image of the second president of the United States.

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Copyright: John Quincy Adams 1843

1840: Photos that Make Paintings

Until the advent of the Daguerreotype and the origins of photography, the most popular images used to be paintings. But as we are beings highly influenced by fashion, it is not surprising that, after the appearance of something as novel as photography, nothing would ever be the same again.

In the art world, the first reaction was to try to join this new style. The paintings of this period began to show more costumbrist scenes, with images that were mainly realistic, with the focus still on figurative art.

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Copyright: Jean-François Millet, “The Gleaners”, 1857
Copyright: Copyright: Gustave Courbet, “The Stone Breakers”, 1849

There is much debate about how much photography influenced the art world of the time. While there is not much certainty on the matter, we can assume that the popularity of photographs led several artists to decide to leave behind the world of realism to try other styles. This might explain why, in later years, Impressionism emerged as a style of painting. This put value on expressiveness and sensations, rather than any resemblance to reality, which was the territory that had been won by photography.

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Copyright: Paul Cezanne – La Maison du pendu Auvers-sur-Oise – 1873
Copyright: Claude Monet – La Gare Saint-Lazare – 1877

1860: War Reportage

Throughout our history records have been left of the battles that forged our civilization, going back long before the Roman Empire. We have read about them and seen the drawings and paintings that depicted them. However, since the invention of photography, we have been able to witness the horrors they actually entail.

The development of the wet collodion process gave photographers much more freedom in capturing images. One of these freedoms was to visit locations and develop the photos in a short time. This helped the emergence of war photography. As a result, today we have access to graphic documents of conflicts such as the Civil War in the United States.

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Copyright: Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes, 1921 – 1940
Copyright: Civil War Photographs by Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner, ca. 1862 – ca. 1965

Nor should we forget that two of the most significant events in our history were documented in detail thanks to photographs.

World War I

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World War II

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Copyright: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD
Copyright: US Holocaust Memorial Museu

Today we may see photographs as mundane and trivial, but they have brought us closer to situations that were totally out of the ordinary. They served to share knowledge of our history as human beings, to bring us closer to other realities and new places.

1888: Move in Closer for the Photo

This was probably the year when photography changed the whole panorama because this was the year that professional photographer George Eastman patented what is considered to be the first camera in history. The name may ring a bell – the Kodak camera.

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Copyright: U.S. patent no. 388,850, issued to George Eastman, September 4, 1888

What made this camera so special? It was the first to use rolls of film. It was marketed under the advertising slogan “You press the button; we do the rest.”

This invention meant much more to the world than it did to George Eastman (who became a millionaire), as it brought photography closer to the common people. In the beginning, only professional photographers could take photos; moreover, photography required an infrastructure that not everyone could afford.

Without this little camera, our photo albums of weddings, world travels, birthday parties and other important events would never have been possible.

1975: Photography to the Digital World

Kodak was the company that revolutionized everything, and not only because of its camera. It also hired Steven Sasson, not knowing that he would be responsible for taking the market to an entirely new place. In 1975, he created what is considered the first personal digital camera.

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Copyright: Steven Sasson

Although it took several years to perfect, this camera was the first step in getting to where we are today. Even image banks would not be what they are today without Steven Sasson’s contribution.

From Freepik, we want to thank you for that, Steve.

1999: Photographs in Your Pocket

You may not remember, but there was a time when mobile phones were just that, mobile phones. No touch screens, no wi-fi, no apps, and —that’s right— no cameras.

It wasn’t until 1999 in Japan that Kyocera launched its Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210, the first phone with a built-in camera.

Check out this little demonstration of its power:

The end of the millennium also meant the beginning of a new world —a digital one. A world in which cameras, when merged with mobile devices, opened the door to new ways of relating to each other. Without this development, social networks and marketplaces would never have appeared.

How many new couples have met thanks to networks like Tinder? How many new businesses have appeared thanks to new platforms like Facebook’s marketplace? How many new realities have we seen thanks to Instagram? And all thanks to the evolution of cameras.

As you can see, photography is an important part of our development. So important, that being able to work with it is an art. And like every art form, practice and inspiration are key elements, so to boost your creativity we highly recommend checking inspiring visuals at Freepik!