History of Photography

By Bryher Morris - Social Secretary of PhotoSoc 20/21

Today, photography is one of the fastest growing hobbies, in fact every 2 minutes, more photos are taken than ever to have existed 150 years ago! This equates to about 657 billion photos being taken every year. But where did this all begin?

The first big recognisable jump towards cameras and the hobby that we know and love today, was the invention of the Camera Obscura. The device, which translates to “dark chamber” was invented by Iraqi Scientists in the 11th Century. It worked by allowing light to enter through a small hole and would produce a reversed, upside-down image, that would be reflected on to the opposite wall. However, the camera obscurer was far from perfect and although it allowed for objects to be traced, no permanent images came from it and they would always appear upside-down!

The principle that the camera obscura works off

It wasn’t until the 1830s in France that the first permanent image was recorded by a Joseph Nicephore Niepce. Niepce originally used a pewter plate coated with bitumen, which meant that the object didn’t fade! It took 8 hours for the first ever photo to develop, and can be seen here. It’s called “view from the window at Le Gras” and was the first recognisable photo compared to today’s standards.

“view from the window at Le Gras” by Joseph Nicephore Niepce. The first ever photograph.

Between the time of the Camera Obscura being invented and Niepce’s work with permanent imagery, ‘cameras’ became more portable. So, what once was a pin hole in a tent, was now able to travel places and this allowed for George Eastman to set up Kodak. This well-known brand is still around today, yet started in the 1880s. The original Kodak camera held 100 film exposure, had a single lens and no ability to be able to make adjustments. The film would be sent to a factory for development and it was so large compared to the 35mm film we get today (in fact the 35 mm film has only really become available since the 1940s, when it became cheap enough for average use).

The first kodak camera, it went to market in 1888

From the 1930s/40s onwards there seemed to be a big shift in photography. Once only used by the wealthy to take images of their families, posing for staged photos, it was now becoming more mainstream. Although still an expensive hobby more documentation of everyday life was going on! Henri-Cartier Bresson and many others, were now using 35mm cameras to capture images of life. And with world war 2, photojournalism took off and really captured a pivotal time in our history!

Here are some examples of Henri-Cartier Bresson everyday life photography.

Another big development for photography, as we know it today, was that of Polaroids. Released in 1948, Model 95 was unlike anything else. It had a secret chemical process where the negative image would catch light from the lens, and turn it into a positive one in less than a minute! Polaroid dominated the market for years with very few competitors being able to achieve the same quality, something which hasn’t really been done still to this day.

So cameras evolved that were compact, portable, easily developed and produced permanent images - yet simple in design. The photographer however, still had little control over the final product! That was until the Japanese brought about easier image control. Japanese companies Asahiflex and Nikon introduced SLR cameras to the market (see photos).

Some of the original SLR cameras from the 1950s

From here on, huge advances were made very quickly, for instance, in the 70s ‘point and shoot’ cameras came to the market. With the aperture, shutter speed and focus all electronically worked out, taking photos had never been easier. The 80s and 90s became digital, with images being able to be stored electronically and in even more recent years, smartphones allo