The first part in our “History of Photography” series took a look at Camera Obscura, the invention of the camera, and introduced us to some of the very first names in photography.
Today we’re continuing that series, looking at how photography grew into a widely consumed medium, conquering the minds of people everywhere. Again, we’ll also introduce you to some of the big names in photography between 1935 and 1980!
Following the early growth in the photo industry, in the year 1934 Fuji Photo Film company (later known as Fujifilm) was founded. By 1938, along with the film, the company started making cameras and lenses, becoming a production monster for the photo industry. The idea of bringing every aspect of a photo camera together gave Fujifilm a unique opportunity to create an environment for professional and amateur photographers, where those could concentrate mostly on the art of photography and not the technicalities.
In 1937 the Polaroid Corporation was founded. The company is known worldwide for the massively popular instant camera they would release 10 years after being founded. Fujifilm and Polaroid’s impact on the photography industry is quite remarkable as they, along with Kodak, completely revolutionized the way photography is seen today. For an activity to become massively popular, the process of it has to be as easy as possible. We owe a debt of gratitude to these companies for how they turned photography into less of a science and more of an art and a way of expressing oneself.
In 1936 photography took another step towards wide recognition. The Kodachrome – the first ever multi-layered color film – was developed. This lead to photos being ever more attractive to the public, appearing evermore real. At this point, photography officially defeated fine art in terms of being the mean for depicting something realistically.
Around the same time as color film was invented, the Exakta camera was developed. This camera pioneered a single-lens reflex (SLR) system, with 35mm film and a built-in flash socket activated by the shutter. The camera was a huge breakthrough in terms of technology. Of course, the quality of the pictures grew too and attracted even more people to this form of art than before.
As cameras and film evolved, they also became less expensive and quite affordable. Thousands of photo shops emerged, offering their customers fast development of their film and other photography related services. With the appearance of a simplified way of taking and developing pictures, photography became a rapidly growing hobby for pretty much anyone. Photo albums arrived in every house around the world.
The situation started reaching its peak when Polaroid corporation released it’s first instant camera, the so-called Land Camera, in 1947. This had paper, developer and fixer stored in its sacs making it possible to produce pictures in 60 seconds – something that was never seen before. In 1963, Polacolor film was introduced making Polaroid extremely popular and profitable.
How Photography Conquered the Hearts
Along with ever improving and simplifying the technology behind photography, new shooting techniques were being developed. Just like any other art form, the technology behind the instrument leads you nowhere unless there’s talent and skill behind it. In 1940 Dr. Harold Edgerton perfected his high-speed stroboscopic photography technique and publishes his work entitled “Flash! Seeing the Unseen by Ultra High-Speed Photography”.
This form of photography immediately captured the viewer’s attention as it showed something that normally eluded the human eye. Dr. Edgerton’s famous picture of a frozen bullet that just smashed through an apple was a huge success.
The idea of photography giving average Joe an opportunity to see something he would have never been able to see before, either due to physical restrictions or any other reason, made the art of photography intriguing to the people and “less arty”, if you will.
In 1946 the first ever picture of the Earth was taken from space that shocked millions. The camera was strapped to a German missile that was launched in New Mexico. It was set up to take a picture every second and a half as the rocket ascended above the surface. Though the device slammed back into the ground, the film was protected and the pictures were published in newspapers around the world. Something most people could never dream about – seeing their planet from the outer space – became reality.
The opportunities photography gave both the photographer and the viewer were unbelievable. In 1960, the OceanEye – a plexiglass bubble used now to shoot underwater – was invented by Bates Littlehales along with the National Geographic photo lab. Before that, underwater photography was incredibly limited – but now anyone could shoot the way he or she liked for the people to see.
In 1963,the first ever purpose-built underwater camera – Nikonos – was introduced, reacting to the increased interest in underwater photography. During this time – mostly thanks to mass media dependance on it – photography became more of a “show and tell” art form that people loved exploring and sharing. It’s hard to find someone today who doesn’t enjoy a good photo, unlike many people who don’t appreciate fine art or ballet.
Moving Force Behind Mass Media
One of the primary uses for photography today is mass media – magazines, newspapers, online blogs and similar. They all require good pictures, and many photographers make a living from working for agencies like Reuters that resell pictures to news agencies all over the world.
But it hasn’t always been that way. The first ever halftone photograph appeared in a newspaper in 1880, but it took more than 50 years for mass media to become dependent on the photographs to the extent it is today.
One of the pioneers in defining culture (pop culture in this case) was the Rolling Stone magazine. Founded in 1967 by Jann Wenner and Ralph Gleason in San Francisco, the magazine focused on political coverage by the famous Hunter S. Thompson as well as pop culture. The “times were a-changin” at this point, and the magazine was a great source for information for young men. So with this power, the photographs of the magazine by the talented Annie Liebovitz defined young men around the United States.
This so-called “pop photography” started provoking and shocking the viewer to attract attention. Focus on photography skill was less important than the person and subject depicted in the frame. Portraits became ever-more important.
Being a magazines whose content depended on the quality of its pictures, National Geographic Magazine – first issue published in October 1888, improved dramatically as photography evolved through the middle of the 20th century. The first ever National Geographic issue with a cover with a photo on it was published in July, 1943. The photo is of an American Flag as a wartime plea by the U.S. Treasury Department.
After being forced to print a photo on its cover, National Geographic benefited greatly from the idea of photographs printed on the cover and inside the magazine. Photography was the perfect medium to give readers the experience of travel, and showcase remote parts of the world. Now, National Geographic Magazine has commissioned hundreds of magnificent photos and is renowned for their stunning photography.
An Interesting Side-Note
Before color photography was introduced in certain magazines, publications that did not want their black and white photos to look old-fashioned used to color pictures manually. The graphic editor literally applied colors with a fine brush, a process that required great skill and patience.
During the growth of the photographic phenomenon in the middle of the 20th century, there were various people responsible for dramatic progression in the medium. These people were able to create a certain style that allowed them to become household names, and we’re showcasing a range of their work below:
Garry Winogrand, born in January 1928 in New York, was one of the first street photographers who would later create a certain style of stereo photography – where a situation is depicted in a moment and is full of story. He would later be widely imitated. Winogrand is well-known for his books “The Animals” – depicting interaction between humans and animals, “Women are Beautiful” – pictures of women on the streets of America, and more.
Street photos became a very popular style of photography in the years to come, and a lot of this is due to Garry Winogrand. He was known for his portrayal of American life in the early 1960s, and many of his photographs depict the social issues of his time.
Garry died in 1984 at the age of 56. He left behind over 300,000 images and more than 2,500 undeveloped rolls of film.
Richard Avedon, born in 1923, is one of the first true fashion photographers, having worked for brands all around the globe and created the identity for fashion photography as an art form. Avedon started work as a Vogue photographer in 1966, later becoming the lead photographer and remaining at the spot until 1988. At the time he worked with luxurious brands such as Calvin Klein and Versace. Avedon is well known for his minimalistic portrait style. It is said that Avedon often provoked the person depitced to make him or her look more real.
After Richard Avedon’s death in 2004, an obituary, published in The New York Times said that, “his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century.” It really did. One of Avedon’s most famous pieces of work, apart from various fashion photo shoots, is the photo book titled “In the American West”. The book was criticized for showing what some considered to be a disparaging or even ignominious view of the US.
Whenever anyone talks about Liebovitz, they keep in mind her Rolling Stone years. Annie started her career as a staff photographer in the Rolling Stone magazine in 1970, right after the magazine was launched. Three years later she became chief photographer and worked there until 1983.
Over the course of 13 years, Liebovitz defined the look of Rolling Stone as well as any other pop culture related magazines at the time. She toured with celebrities across the world, and was always taking pictures. Musicians have said that “she was almost psychotic about her job.” Indeed, the passion Liebovitz had, and still has, for the photography is tremendous. Born in 1949, Annie was the creator of the American culture throughout the seventies. One of her most famous photo shoots depicts John Lennon and Yoko Ono:
After leaving Rolling Stone and working on several of her personal projects, Liebovitz ended up at Vanity Fair magazine, specializing in staged fashion (usually celebrity) photography. Liebovitz won numerous awards and has photographed an enormous number of celebrities. When asked about the celebrity aspect of her work Liebovitz says “I never liked the word “celebrity”. I’ve always been more interested in what they do than who they are, I hope that my photographs reflect that.”
Next time, we’ll be looking at the third and final part of our History of Photography, taking you through the emergence of digital photography, the Internet, and a few photography personas still very much active today!