History of Photography

Photography has served as an instrument of communication, allowing opportunities to share experiences, which has launched careers for photographers worldwide.

History of Photography

Long before the invention of photography in 1839, people in the western half of the North American continent used visual means to make sense of their world; in petroglyphs and pictographs, on hiding painting and ceramic vessels beadwork and devotional art. But the West’s settlement as a part of the United States largely coincides with the invention and spread of photography. The new American region and the new medium came of age together. Through photography, many Americans encountered the West for the first time. And in the nineteenth-century West, American photography found its most distinctive and readily recognizable subject.

When photography was first introduced 150 years ago, it was the perfect documentary tool because photos told “the truth” by exposing people in an unrehearsed and candid manner. For this reason, photography created a record of events that even courts of law embraced as indisputable fact.

Digital Photography

The digital turn presents two broad and enormous challenges for historians who would use photographs. On the one hand, there is the question of how to think about “born digital” photographs, a term used in opposition to “analog” photographs, produced with chemical processes and possessing a physical, material form. On the other, there is how to think about digital archives, both those composed entirely of born-digital materials and those created as older materials are converted to digital formats.

The first digital cameras shipped out to consumers in 1997, the first cellphone cameras in 2000. Digital photography rapidly emerged as technology during the 1990s and achieved high adoption levels during the first decade of the 21st century. In 2003, digital camera sales surpassed those of film cameras and, in 2004, consumers purchased 48 percent more digital cameras (15.7 million) than film cameras(10.6 million). By 2006, all the major camera and film manufacture had discontinued the manufacture of most types of film and film cameras; the major camera and film manufacturers including Kodak, Fuji, Nikon, Canon, Minolta, and others had essentially abandoned film as they discontinued the manufacturing of most types of film and film cameras.

That first year of the new millennium marked the peak for analog photographs’ production, with an estimated 85 billion made worldwide, an astounding number that now seems quaint. People made an estimated 1.2 trillion digital photographs in 2017 and uploaded 1.2 billion to Google every day. Daily picture uploads to Facebook number about 300 million. One researcher estimates that on 31 January 2020, every two minutes, we take as many photographs as the whole of humanity took in the nineteenth century.


  1. Meyer, Eric. (2008). Framing the Photographs: Digital Photography as a Computerization Movement.
  2. Mullen, L (1988). A Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts In Mass Communication
  3. Sandweiss, M. A. (2020). Seeing History: Thinking about and with Photographs. Western Historical Quarterly51(1), 1–28. https://doi-org.lopes.idm.oclc.org/10.1093/whq/whz098