EXERCISE 1-4 History of Photography


Primary Source: Philip Greenspun, 2007


For an essay on the early development of image reproduction from the Camera Obscura to Daguerrotype and its consequences for art especially painting see previous Post.

Technology: 1850-1900:

1851-1860: Rapid development of the chemistry of image production: use of collodian and chemicals on glass sheets: wet plate and collodian photography had great potential being cheaper than dageurrotpyes.

1861:  Invention of colour phtography system by James Clerk-Maxwell; black and white photographs taken through a red, gree or blue filter. Origin of the “colour separation” method.

1861-65: First large-scale use of photographic documentation in the coverage of the American civil war.

1877: Eadward Muybridge introduced time-sequenced photography to demonstrate the physical movement of a galloping horse, human bodies and other subjects.

1880s: Half-tone photographs appeared in daily newspaper, 1880. George Eastman sets up photography studio in New York.

1888- 1889: Kodak film developed, after earlier use of paper

1890: Documentary photography explored – How The Other Half Lives – a study of Tenements of New York

Effects on visual arts:

Popularity of photographs continued to spread and became available to less well-off now able to have images of themselves and their families at modest cost. Artists who painted portraits usually in oils for upper classes became celebrities in their own right – John Singer Sargeant.

John Singer Sargent: Lady Agnew

Documentary photography supplanted “genre” and social painting.

Rise of Impressionism especially in Paris – artists no longer required to accurately represent the real, so were able to explore effects of light and space and colour previously unheard of. But many painters were interested and and affected by the two-dimensional representation elements of the photographic lens. Rene Degas and Edward Manet composed their paintings as if they had been first photographed. Degas took many photographs himself.


Technology 1900-1930. 

Catalogue from MMA exhibition of Degas’ photographsTechnology: 1900-1930

1900: Kodak Brownie Box roll-film camera introduced

1906: Pan-chromatic black and white film and high quality colour separation photography developed.

1917: 4. Nikon (Nippon Kogaku KK) established in Tokyo in 1917.

1924: German manufacturer Leitz developed camera using modern 24 x 36 mm frame and sprocketed 35 mm film., which became the Leica, first high quality 35 mm camera.

1928: Rolleiflex twinlens reflex produces a 6 x 6 cm image on film.

Effects on visual arts:

 Documentary photography developed its own impetus as an art form in its own right. J.P.Morgan financed Edward Curtis to document the traditional culture of the North American Indian, 1906

One of thousands of portraits of Native Americans by Curtis

Oil painting increasingly confined to limited contexts, studios and galleries, quickly developing its own dynamic modes, freed from the requirement of accurate representation.

The power of photography as an art-medium in its own right developed.

In 1902 Alfred Stieglitz organized the “Photo Secessionist” show in New York, announcing a new role for the photographic image, experimental and aesthetic.


In 1921 Man Ray began exploring all kinds of innovations in representation, including the “rayograph”. In 1928 Albert Renger-Patzsch published The World is Beautiful: close-ups of natural and man-made objects, opening up new ways of seeing through photographic manipulation.

Photography as a high quality means of documentation became an art form of its own: an ethnographic impulse with aesthetic values . Exploration of the lives of “others” – Indians, lower classes, impoverished minorities developed certain styles and modes.

Andre Kertesz moves from Hungary to Paris, beginning an eleven year project of photographing everyday Paris street life.

Andre Ketesz, Hungarian photographer, spent eleven years photographing scenes of Paris life

Technology: 1930-1970.

1932: the beginning of Technicolour in movies intensified interest in colour technologies for still film.

1932: Photographic thought was developed around Group f/64 – Anselm Adams, Imogen Cuningham, Edward Weston an others.

1930s: Henri Cartier-Bresson in France buys a Leica and popularizes it as the ultimate camera for art and portraiture.

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Jumping Man Eiffel Tower

1934: In Japan, Fuji Photo Film was founded, making cameras and lenses as well.

1936: Kodachrome, the first multi-layered colour film was developed.

1940-1945:   World War Two speeded up the technology of colour negative film. War photography became instituted with Robert Capa, Carl Mudans and others, covering the war for LIFE magazine.

1947: Magnum Picture agency started in 1947.

1948: Many new techniques developed: Hasselblad in Sweden offered a medium-format SLR; Pentax in Japan introduced the automatic diaphragm; Polaroid developed instant black and white film.

1963: Instamatic released by Kodak 1963.

Effects on visual arts:

Split between photographic realism and representation in art now consolidated. Beginning of abstract art especially in US in the 1950s.

Photography as a means of representing everyday life expands and spreads more widely to the “average person”. Photography becomes a popular hobby; painting and drawing disappear as a common means of expression.

Documentary photography continued and seen to have a moral and social purpose, eg in the Family of Man exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art curated by Edward Steichen in 1955.

Experimental photography explored in different contexts

Technology: 1970-present.

1972: Kodak introduced 110-format cameras in 1972.

1975: Kodak builds the first working CCD-based digital still camera, 1975.

1983: Kodak introduces disk camera.

1985: Minolta:markets first autofucs SLR system.

1987: Canon EOS system with all-electronic lens mount.

1990: Adobe Photoshop released.

1999: Nikon D1 SLR, 2.74 megapixel for $6000.

2001: Polaroid goes bankrupt

 THE DIGITAL AGE: The rise and rise of digital photography and its spread to everybody through the development first of mini-sized point and shoot cameras and then the camera phone ushered in a new age of photography which sites side by side with ever-more sophisticated commercial and art photography. The image is universalized, massively expanded and has created new modes of social subjectivity: the selfie, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. The technology seems to have reached as far as it can go at this stage, the social and cultural effects are still unknown.

Effects on visual arts:

 Throughout this period photography has become more and more important as an art form in its own right. Ruth Orkin’s famous photograph “An American Girl in Italy”, 1951, showed the power of black and white photography to capture a moment and at the same offer a commentary.

Ruth Orkin: An American Girl in Italy 1951

In the 1970s came the first solo show of a photographer’s colour work at Museum of Modern Art – William Eggleston – in 1976.

Cindy Sherman begins work on Untitled Film Stills (completed 1980);Jan Groover works on kitchen utensils.

Abstracted seascapes and animal still-lifes become a topic for fine art photography along with certain national sensibilities: Japan’s Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Wolves


Hiroshi Sugimoto: Seascape 1991

Polaroid “portraits” emerge as a fine art category.

Richard Avedon’s “In the American West” portraits brought together documentary, portraiture and a kind of weird investigative sensibility, offering a commentary on American life the opposite of what was in LIFE magazine.

Richard Avedon: Setting up the shots, American West
Richard Avedon: Beekeeper

1980s onwards: Art photography becomes a highly paid profession. Robert Mapplethorpe, Diane Arbus and Annie Leibovitz are icons.


1960s-1970s: German artist Gerhard Richter begins the first systematic exploration of the various connections that can be made between photography and painting. Explored monochrome, repainting over photographs, painting directly from photographs, photographic images from newspapers and historical events.

Gerhard Richter: Helga Matura and her Fiance, 1965.

 Today: Art photography has exploded around the world. There are galleries and shows in all major cities, with a vast variety of work melding elements of abstraction, a painterly sensibility and documentary approaches.

In Australia, Melbourne has become the main location for outstanding art photography. Emerging photographers such as James Jardine create photographic images of Melbourne streets which are saturated with a painterly aesthetic. Jardine is offering a variety of objects featuring his photographs online through fineart.america, eg canvas prints, throw pillows, duvet covers and shower curtains, using the power of the internet and online shopping to make a living from his art.

James Jardine: Melbourne Centre 2013

source: http://melbournestreet.net/category/feature-friday-2/ (Two other of his works are on the site)