The History of Photography in Five Animated Minutes: From Camera Obscura to Camera Phone

We find ourselves, still early in the 21st century, in an unprecedented era in the history of photography. The consumers of the developed world have, of course, had access to cameras of their own for decades and decades, but now almost each and every one of us walks around with a camera in our pocket. When a particular landscape, building, animal, human being, or other sight strikes our fancy, we capture it without a moment’s hesitation — and, often, without having given a moment’s thought to the technological and artistic history of the discipline we are, if for little more than an instant, practicing.

Most of us, knowing ourselves to be no Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, or Diane Arbus, would hesitate to describe the snaps with which we document and share our daily lives as “photography.” But in taking any picture, no matter how mundane or even silly, we place ourselves in the stream of a tradition. But we can gain an understanding of that tradition, at least in broad strokes, from “The History of Photography in Five Minutes,” the Cooperative of Photography video above which, in the words of its narrator, offers an insight into — brace yourself for this and other puns —  “how photography has developed.”



Beginning with the camera obscura, the reflection and tracing devices that date back to antiquity (later described and used by Leonardo da Vinci), the video moves swiftly from milestone to photographic milestone, including the first photograph, a “heliograph” taken in 1826; Louis Daguerre’s invention of “the first practical photographic process” in 1833; the first selfie, taken in 1839; the emergence of mobile photo studios in the 1850s; Eadweard Muybridge’s motion-photography studies of the 1870s; Kodak’s production of the first roll-film consumer camera in 1888; the game-changing Leica I hitting the market in 1925; the first single-lens reflex in 1949; the first digital camera in 1975; and, opening our own era, the first camera phone in 2000.

And now our smartphones and their “insanely powerful cameras” onboard have turned photography into a “global passion” that “has truly brought the world closer together.” The proliferation of hastily taken, essentially uncomposed shots of our purchases, our food, and ourselves have given old-school photography enthusiasts plenty to complain about, but the era of accessible photography has only just begun. Most of us are still, in some sense, taking heliographs and daguerreotypes; just imagine how the next fifteen years will, er, expose our true photographic capabilities.

Related Content:

Ansel Adams Reveals His Creative Process in 1958 Documentary

How to Take Photographs Like Ansel Adams: The Master Explains The Art of “Visualization”

Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Decisive Moment

Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye, a Revealing Look at “The Father of Modern Photography”

1972 Diane Arbus Documentary Interviews Those Who Knew the American Photographer Best

Getty Images Makes 35 Million Photos Free to Use Online

Hunter S. Thompson’s Advice for Aspiring Photographers: Skip the Fancy Equipment & Just Shoot

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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  • janis aimee says:

    This was a really fun informative history piece. I wanted to show it to my 13 year old grandson who currently is attempting to emulate his pro-photo uncle. BUT, alas, the naked women pic’s have caused me to not show him this video. Kind of a loss – and as content, not that important.

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