Posted by: Lily DeBenedictis | September 30, 2018

Focusing the Lens to the Past to See the Future: Evolution of the Camera

So far, we have discussed the image and its social implications and uses. Documentation, art, identification and surveillance. But, what about how the image is produced? The Camera. A piece of technology with a longer exposure time and even longer history.

While it is important to understand the function of the photograph itself, it is also important to look at the camera itself and how far the technology has come. Image capture began with taking objects and placing them on paper and leaving them in the light. Since then, the camera has come a very long way. The first was the camera obscura, equipped with a silver plate covered with silver iodide. Images were captured through a small aperture in an enclosed box that contained an angled mirror which would reflect an exterior image onto the mirror and then imprint it onto the silver plate. Daguerre took this process one step further and added a development stage where the silver plate was dipped into mercury vapors which would expose the image. This reduced the development time significantly down to about 30 minutes.


In the late 1830s, the invention of the photograph had inspired William Henry Fox Talbot. He created the first negative process. Where an image was captured in reverse and then printed correctly by using light, a chemical developer and finishing process.

From the 1830s through the late 70s, new processes were being invented that would speed up image capture. The calotype became the wet collodion and silver became glass and then photo paper. The greatest change, came in the late 1880s. The invention of the people’s camera.

George Eastman created the Kodak camera in 1888. Earlier in this course we talked about the democratization of photography in terms of the accessibility to this technology for image capture. Now, instead of just taking portraits, the camera was able to disseminate into society in a manner that meant every John, Jim and Sue could buy one and become an amateur photographer. Slimming down the design and selling it with 100 exposure film rolls, Eastman revolutionized the process by making the camera for the ordinary, average citizen.


This began the trend of capturing the everyday events as photograph-worthy subjects. What truly fascinates me is the set of circumstances that it took for photography to turn from being an expensive alternate to portraiture, to a mode of identification and criminal surveillance, to the capturing of everyday life, to art, and finally now how we use it today as a mode of communication.  Although the use of photography for communicating ideas is not new, it is now more informal than ever. Through our camera phones, we are able to turn ordinary moments into something interesting. A single snapchat or Instagram photo now seems to give a similar identifying marker as a portrait once did. It captures the essence of the “truth” that we want to present to the public. Finally, I believe that photography is still finding is place, but it is important to look backwards from where it came and now we can look to where it is going.

Works Cited:
Fineman, Mia. “Kodak and the Rise of Amateur Photography”. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum: Department of Photographs. 2004.

Maison Nicephore Niepce. “History of Photography”. Invention of Photography.

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