The word “photography” comes from the Greek language; photo- for light and -graph for drawing. A photographic image then, is one that is made with light to record an image on a light-sensitive surface. Since its first introduction, photography has become one of the most widely used forms of expression in the world.

Compared to other forms of art, photography is a youngster, being less than 200 years old. But its roots actually date back thousands of years. Both the Chinese and Greeks experimented with an early form of technology called the camera obscura.

The story of modern photography began in 1839 with the publication of the first photograph by Louis Daguerre in France. Daguerre’s experiment, called the daguerreotype, used a camera based on the camera obscura, to record an image that was then printed on a copper plate covered with silver chloride. The end result was a shiny mirror-like image that could be framed.

In 1889, American George Eastman of Rochester, New York, would completely transform the photography world with the introduction of flexible roll film and a small box camera that was simple enough for most anyone to use. Eastman and his company Eastman-Kodak revolutionized the photographic process, opening the way for a truly democratic art form to emerge. Photography was no longer in the hands of a few—it was now a mass-culture art form.

Photography’s relative ease and speed soon made it an essential tool in documenting people and events. Mathew Brady’s large camera was used on the battlefields during the United States Civil War bringing the war’s horrors to people on the home front. Newspapers soon made use of photographers to capture images of presidents, natural disasters, society events, and much more. Photographs could tell a story in ways that more traditional art forms, such as painting, could not. And most of all: It was almost immediate.

Journalism was not the only field to recognize the value of photographs. Fashion and advertising embraced the new form, using it to sell the latest styles and products. Nature and wildlife photographers documented the beauty and savagery of flora and fauna. Soon other avenues opened up: Aerial photography documented landscapes and weather from a plane, while sports photography focused on action and athletes. Landscape photographers captured the diversity of the world. Fine-art photographers experimented with techniques and expression. More recent additions have emerged, such as pet and newborn photography.

With the advent of digital photography, photographers had even more tools at their fingertips. No longer was a darkroom needed—everything was compressed into cameras with small computers and card readers that could be downloaded to a computer and processed. The addition of cameras to mobile devices has further revolutionized the way people take pictures, making it possible to document nearly everything a person sees and does.

Photography

Photographs have become the medium of choice for documenting events around the world. Here, a photographer shooting a Brexit protest in front of an European Union flag in London, England, in March 2019.

daguerreotype
Noun

one of the first popular forms of photography in which a photography was taken with mercury vapor and a specially coated copper plate.

democratic
Adjective

having to do with a government led by its citizens, who vote for policies and/or representatives.

fauna
Noun

animals associated with an area or time period.

flora
Noun

plants associated with an area or time period.

journalism
Noun

collection and editing of news for presentation through the media.

medium
Noun

(plural: media) tool or instrument of communication.

Noun

art and science of producing still or moving images using the chemical reaction of light on a sensitive surface, such as film or an electronic sensor.

silver chloride
adjective, noun

white, granular compound (AgCl) that darkens on exposure to light, often used in fingerprinting and photo-processing.