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Origins of Photography

From Concept to Click When was Photography Invented?

One of the most revealing questions in history gave rise to an intriguing web project in 2011:

What would you take with you if your home was on fire?

This question led to the creation of a website and a documentary that examine the tension between what is meaningful, valuable, and sentimental for each of us through the images that various users have submitted. Each item, which ranged from musical instruments, books, and technology to apparel, artwork, and mementos, revealed a unique tale about its owner.

But despite the vast number of posts, there was one aspect that was shared by nearly all of them. Something that has undoubtedly also been on your mind ever since you read the question posed a few paragraphs ago and gave it a mental response.

Something reasonably light, not overly large or heavy, and capable of evoking strong feelings and memories.

Yes, that is correct. Pictures.

Nearly 200 Years of Capturing Emotions

From its inception in France in 1827, photography has developed into one of the most captivating media formats, inspiring other highly regarded forms like cinema—after all, what is a movie if not a series of images played at a rapid pace?

Pictures have the ability to take us to new places, let us travel through our imaginations, and even take us back in time. They can evoke feelings in us of nostalgia, intrigue, creativity, romance, or even disgust. They impart knowledge to us about the past and potential futures.

The Initial French Spark

And the vistas across a few rooftops were where it all started. The first permanent photograph was created in 1827 by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, signalling the beginning of this ground-breaking media. Across his window, the rooftops were in full view of the camera for a minimum of eight hours.

Louis Daguerre improved the method and unveiled the daguerreotype in 1839 working with Niépce. The first photograph featuring a human subject was made possible by this process, which involved exposing an image onto a copper plate coated in silver.

With the help of the French government, the daguerreotype quickly gained widespread acceptance and made it possible for people to have their portraits taken and capture special moments in a tangible way.

The Amateurs Step in

William H. Fox Talbot, an English inventor, created his method of using the camera obscura to take pictures outside of France. Although his calotype process allowed for image reproduction, it was not as accurate as the daguerreotype.

After Daguerre received his patent, Talbot showcased his creation to the public after realising its potential. Talbot initiated the artistic aspect of amateur photography by introducing photography to upper-class groups through his book “The Pencil of Nature.”

Up until Kodak released the first affordable camera in 1888, photography was limited to upper-class enthusiasts. With the tagline “Press the button, we do the rest,” the device made taking pictures easy by requiring users to do nothing more than press a button to receive their developed prints later.

From Heavy Devices to Summer Selfies

With the advent of the 20th century and the beginning of a new era of technological advancement, photography began to flourish. Leica’s development of the 35mm film in 1925 further increased accessibility to cameras. The first digital camera was invented in 1927 by Kodak engineer Steve Sasson, who lit the spark that eventually allowed us to snap a new summer selfie with our smartphones.

We’ve taken a wide range of photos over the past nearly 200 years, from gorgeous portraits to grainy moon shots. However, if there’s one thing we’ve discovered along the way, it’s that emotion and narrative, rather than technical proficiency, are what really make a good picture.

The origins of photography reveal a story of human curiosity and creativity, driven by a desire to capture and preserve moments in time. From humble beginnings with light-sensitive chemicals to the digital revolution of the 21st century, photography has undergone a remarkable evolution.

As we click our cameras or tap our smartphones to capture fleeting moments, it’s worth reflecting on the journey that brought us to this point. The origins of photography remind us of the enduring power of images to inspire, inform, and connect us across time and space.

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