A Brief History of Photography

The word ‘photography’ stems from the Greek terms photosi and graphien which means light and to draw respectively. Photography, just like any other art, has a rich history that dates back to 1800s. And over the years, there has been an evolution in the photography industry. This post will give you a brief history of photography.

There is quite a huge change when you compare photography in the 20th century and the previous years. The same can also be said about every other type of visual representation. But what is unique with photography is the transformed perception of the medium. So to understand this change, it is important to go a few more steps back to understand where it all started.

The beginning of photography

The word photography was first coined by Sir John F.W Hershel in 1849. He used this phrase due to the fact that this process intended to use light to imprint images onto a material that was sensitive enough to record it.


Joseph Niepce was the first person in the world to ever take a photograph. This was however achieved after an exposure time of eight hours. Before that though, photography was thought to be the most technical process. It was more of science than art. So photographers back then had to focus on improving the equipment to get clearer and more accurate photos.

Daguerre is also one of the most famous inventors who contributed to the earliest designs of the camera. He became partners with Niepce in 1829.

He became popular at that time for painting Opera scenes but was driven by the desire to capture them through the lens of a camera. His partnership helped him out in his quest.

In the later 19th century, photography, just like other inventions spread in its popularity. Some of the inventions that made photography accessible to the upper-middle class consumers include the Kodak #1 camera of 1888. The Kodak Brownie camera cost far less and was able to reach the middle class by 1900.

The 20th century

Photographs gained credibility in the early 20th century as objective evidence since they could document people ,events and places. Eadweard Muybridge is one of the photographers that created portfolios of photographs to measure human and animal movement.


By the early 1920s, technology became a vehicle of change and progress that instilled hope in the hearts of many after the devastations of the first World War. For avant-garde artists, photography became appealing during this time for its associations with technology and science. The technology of mechanical reproduction of the camera is what made it the fastest, most modern and relevant form of visual representation after the WWI.

The industry back then also offered more than a new method or image-making—it changed paradigms of vision and representation.

In the late 20th century however, photography was used to systematically document modern types of people as a way of understanding changing notions of race, ethnicity, class, profession and other constructions of identity. Today, photography marks the evolution of the digital era. Photography now reflects its potential to capture individual moments in time, to freeze, hold and recreate them.