Photography has undergone extraordinary innovations, from silvered copper plate prints (daguerreotypes), to negative prints, to analogue, and now digital. Photography is the largest growing hobby in the world. Today the camera is firmly embedded into modern culture, with every event, from the mundane to the strange and wonderful, captured and shared with the whole world through smartphones and social media.
The invention of photography in the late 1830s quickly led to a dramatic increase in the production and circulation of images. Photography gained more popularity in 1888 with the invention of the Kodak #1 camera, making the medium more accessible. The endless reproducibility of the photograph was a central feature of consumer society.
It was due to its infinite reproducibility and its preciseness in capturing the world around us that questions arose if this medium could be deemed as art. This led to photographers forming casual societies to challenges these conceptions, and revolutionized the way the photos were perceived. Alfred Stieglitz, along with F. Holland Day, were the driving force for this movement whose goal was to prove that it was not all just the about the subject captured, but also the manipulation by the photographer, using painterly compositional choices, to create an original vision.
Photography offered the chance to change the standard in perception and representation. In the early twentieth-century, French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, reflected this potential by capturing isolating moments and “freezing” them in time, making them permanently present. A pioneer of photojournalism, his spontaneous composed captures has influenced generations of artists and journalists.
In the 1970s, Andy Warhol chronicled everything in his life through the lens of a camera. Friends, celebrities, apartments, stores, and random stuff like trash cans. He made such an extensive collection, ‘instragrammers’ of today pale in comparison. With his images we see a part of New York history, and the first visual diary that many amateur photographers try to replicate today.
During the same period, Robert Mapplethorpe captured another side of history. Mapplethorpe’s graphically stylized black-and-white photographs crossed a political line in representing homosexuality and sex-positivity in an age of sexual awakening. Mapplethorpe’s images pushed forward ideas about art versus pornography, and gave us an insight into the sexual and artistic undergrounds of seventies and eighties’ New York.
All great art changes the way we see the world around us and is what sets it apart from a craftsmanship. Photographers create a new perspective into everyday life, and offer a visual knowledge of the world. The most valued work are ones that are best examples of a movement, and represent turning points in the art world.