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The History of Photography

From its invention to its current omnipresence, photography has captivated us. It shows us things that would otherwise remain unseen, in an entirely unique way. The stunning wall art by masters like Man Ray and Edward Steichen have long since become classics from the history of photography.

“One might compare the art of photography to the act of pointing.”

MoMA Curator John Szarkowski

But when was photography invented? And by whom? Join us for a look into the origins of photography, from the early days with silver chloride-coated paper to the world of digital photography and video we have today. Find a curated selection of masterpieces in the LUMAS collection. Take a journey through time, discover famous photographers, and find your personal favorite pieces!

Contents – The History of Photography

The Camera Obscura and the Origins of Photography
     When was photography invented?
     Who invented photography?
     Photography Then and Now: Selfies and “Sex Sells”
The Development of Photography
     35mm Cameras, Color Film, and Polaroid: Milestones in the History of Photography
Classics from the History of Photography: Heinrich Heidersberger and Alfred Eisenstaedt
     Dress of Light: Heinrich Heidersberger
     Photographs of Everyday Existence
     Documenting History: Photographer Will McBride
On the Way toward Digital Photography
     Photography in the Mid-20th Century
     Digitalization and Post-Processing in the History of Photography
The History of Photography: Short and Sweet
A History of Photography Timeline

The Camera Obscura and the Origins of Photography


The roots of photography extend back further than you might assume. In the 4th Century BC, Aristotle made use of the principles of the camera obscura, in which an image is projected through a small hole. Through a camera obscura’s pinhole, the image of the world is often reversed or upside-down. While our notion of a camera has evolved dramatically, the “camera obscura” is considered the ancient building block upon which further revolutionary developments and inventions in the field of photography were built.


Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and Louis Daguerre are often considered the inventors of photography with cameras as we now know it. The former started out experimenting with silver chloride and silver halide photography, but couldn’t figure out how to prevent them from darkening with exposure to light.

  • In 1826, Niépce succeeded in taking the first camera photograph. He used a sheet of pewter coated with bitumen, which required an exposure time of at least 8 hours! The subject of this photograph hit close to home for Niépce; it is the view from his workroom in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France.
  • Painter Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre was so excited by this achievement, he partnered with Niépce. Daguerre continued to develop, refine, and tinker with the process using silver-plated sheets of copper and fuming them with mercury vapor. As he continued to develop this process, Daguerre was able to vastly reduce to the exposure time.
 History of Photography Tamara Karsavina by Atelier Riess

Tamara KarsavinaAtelier Riess

from $ 184  to $ 279

 History of Photography Hundemarkt in London by Martin Munkacsi

Hundemarkt in LondonMartin Munkacsi

from $ 184  to $ 279

 History of Photography Street Playground by John Drysdale

Street PlaygroundJohn Drysdale

$ 124

  • In 1839, with exposure times of just a few seconds, the daguerreotype first became a means of using photography commercially for portraits. This has proven to be a critical juncture in the history of photograph when it comes to the proliferation of cameras and the success of the medium.
  • Just a few years later, William Henry Fox Talbot came up with the calotype process. This was the first process that let photographers create a negative from which multiple prints could be made.
  • In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer introduced the collodion wet plate process, which produced a negative image on a transparent glass plate. Although it was surpassed by the gelatin dry plate process in the late 1800s, the collodion process was used for tintype portraits and in the printing industry well into the 1900s.


These days we think of the camera as an artist’s tool, similar to a painter’s brush. But before photography became its own art form, painting was especially dominant in the art world. In the 1800s and in the beginning of the 1900s, artists regarded photographers as inferior competition. Traditionally, people would have their portraits made by painters, who were now starting to fear for their livelihood. Regardless, the first artists soon began to integrate the camera and photography into their repertoire.

The first “selfie” ever was taken in 1839 by American lamp-maker and photography enthusiast Robert Cornelius using the daguerreotype process. Business-minded photographers immediately recognized the commercial value of easily reproducible images.

With their erotic, nude photographs in the 1850s, Alexis Gouin and Bruno Braquehais produced the predecessors to the classic pin-up photograph. They sold well, which should come as no surprise – “sex sells” was every bit as accurate then as it is now. These days, nude photography is still part of many photographer’s portfolios, although few are able to walk the narrow line between aesthetic and erotic images.

 The History of Photography: "Halbakt mit Perlenkette" by Alexis Gouin

“Halbakt mit Perlenkette”Alexis Gouin

from $ 184  to $ 689

 The History of Photography: "Lesende Schöne" by Bruno Braquehais

“Lesende Schöne”Bruno Braquehais

from $ 184  to $ 679

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