“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
— Aaron Siskind
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what if there were no pictures? Imagine Life Without…the photograph.
Predating both the phonograph and the cinema, the first permanent photo etching image was produced in 1822 by French inventor Nicéphore Niépce. His photo, “View from the Window at Le Gras,” is the earliest surviving photo from anture (i.e., image of a real-world scene as formed in a Camera Obscura lens).
Because Niépce’s camera photographs required an extremely long exposure (at least eight hours to several days), he sought to improve his bitumen process. In partnership with Louis Daguerre, he worked out post-exposure processing methods that produced superior results with exposure time measured in minutes instead of hours. Daguerre took the earliest confirmed photograph of a person in 1838 while capturing a view of a Paris street. This new process was publicly announced and the news created an international sensation. France presented this invention to the world as the gift of France on August 19th, 1839.
Brownie Point and Shoot Camera (1900)
Inexpensive and easy to operate, the Brownie was one of the first box cameras and brought the snapshot to the masses when it hit stores in 1900. 100,000 unites sold that first year. Ansel Adams’ parents gave one to their son during a 1916 trip to Yosemite National Park, when the future landscape photography and environmentalist was 14. While setting up his first photo, Adams tumbled off a tree stump and inadvertently pressed the shutter. He rated the accidental image, “one of my favorites from this, my first year of photography.”
The standard 8 mm (also known as Regular 8) film format was developed by the Eastman Kodak company during the Great Depression and released to the market in 1932 to create a home movie format that was less expensive than 16 mm film. The film spools actually contain a 16 mm film with twice as many perforations along each edge as normal 16 mm film. On its first pass through the camera, the film is exposed only along half of its width. When the first pass is complete, the operator opens the camera and flips and swaps the spools (the design of the spool hole ensures that the operator does this properly and the same film is subsequently exposed along its other edge, the edge left unexposed on the first pass.
After the film is developed, the processor splits it down the middle, resulting in two lengths of 8 mm film, each with a single row of perforations along one edge. Each frame is half the width and half the height of a 16 mm frame, so there are four times the number of frames in a given film area, which is what makes it cost less.
It’s the most famous home movie in history: 486 frames recorded on a Kodachrome II safety film of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Abraham Zapruder had left his Bell & Howell 414PD Zoomatic camera at home that day, but as his assistant’s urging, he drove 14 miles round-trip to retrieve it. Each winding of the mechanical camera’s mainspring lasts 30 seconds; the footage that became critical evidence in the Warren Commission’s report on the assassination was 26 seconds long.
Polaroid Camera (1948)
In 1943, Jennifer Land, 3, watched her father, Edwin, take photos; “Why can’t I see the pictures now?” Her plea was answered in 1948, when Polaroid – the company her father headed – began selling instant film and cameras. It spent 10 years and $250 million developing the iconic SX-70, which debuted in 1972. The expenditure nearly sank the firm, but by 1974, the camera was a hit. It spit out 1 billion prints that year.
Kodak Carousel (1961)
Unveiled in 1961, it was not the first 35-mm slide projector – merely the best. Before the Carousel, projectors tended to be problematic machines. Other projectors at the time relied on temperamental mechanical parts to move the slide out of its stack and in front of the light, and jamming was a regular occurrence. According to Todd Gustavson, the George Eastman House curator of technology, “The Carousel was the first projector to use the most dependable system of slide delivery: Gravity.”
Digital Camera (1975)
When you think of cameras, a few big names are Canon, Sony and Kodak. Though Canon is widely recognized as the creator of the best cameras in the world, it is a shock knowing that the credit to this invention goes to Kodak and not Canon. A Kodak engineer by the name of Steven Sasson invented the first digital camera in 1975.
Logitech introduced the first consumer model, the Fotoman, in early 1991. Sold at the affordable price of $995, the camera was a gray-scale point-and-shoot digital camera. Announced as a pocket-size camera, it would take pictures of 376 x 240 pixel resolution and stored them in its 1 MB flash memory. A one-button, easy to operate digital camera. There was no display and the camera would communicate with users through beep tones. Without a manual you were lost as there was no way to figure out what the beeps meant. The camera worked on two rechargeable batteries buried under the black plastic cover. You had to recharge these batteries frequently because when they were depleted your pictures were lost (ah, the days before the Cloud…). Not only that, but once the batteries were recharged you had to connect your camera to a computer and download the software into the camera to make it work again!
Because of its popularity and that of other models, Kodak retired its Kodachrome film format in 2009 after 74 years of service.
JVC introduced the first video camera and recorder in March of 1984, the GR-C1. It used a 30-minute analogue VHS-C video tape, which could be played back in a standard VHS VCR using an adapter. The camera was also capable of playback in the viewfinder or through a composite video cable. A separate RF modulator was available to enable connection to the aerial socket of domestic televisions.
The Camera Phone (1997)
In 1997, Philipe Kahn created the first camera phone solution for sharing pictures instantly on public networks. To announce the birth of Kahn’s daughter he rigged a mobile phone with a digital camera and sent off photos following her birth in real time.
From taking several days to develop one photograph to taking multiple images on a phone in seconds, photography has certainly seen significant innovation in a short period of time, and why? Because inventors said to themselves, “How can I do this better?”
We hope this inspired you to ask yourself the same question! We’ve got a number of searches ready for you to submit your idea and who knows, maybe someday we’ll be wondering what life would be like without YOUR idea!