The first recorded history of using light, darkness, and a pinhole to project images comes from the 1400s when artists learned they could sketch an image more precisely by inserting a lens into a small hole. Called ‘camera obscura,’ this process produced a sharp image onto a flat surface that could be traced when producing art. This discovery began the process of experimentation with capturing images by employing chemicals and light.
In 1837, Louis Daguerre invented the Daguerreotype, a copper plate coated with silver iodide and infused with mercury during the development process. He encountered problems making the images permanent because of chemical degradation, leading to further experimentation to perfect the art of photography. By 1851, a French sculptor discovered glass plates coated with chemicals reduced the cost and permitted multiple reproductions of a single image.
Photography studios began springing up throughout Europe where families could sit for a portrait at an affordable price. Portable darkrooms permitted professional photographers to leave the studio and bring their services into homes. They commonly travelled with all their supplies packed into a suitcase and developed images on the spot.
Probably the most significant development in the history of photography occurred in the late 1800s when George Eastman, who was only 24 at the time, devised a way to insert film into a camera that could be manually advanced by turning a key. This invention allowed anyone to become a photographer by shooting images and sending the camera to Eastman’s Rochester, N.Y. lab for processing. By 1888, the first Kodak camera hit the stores, and film rolls became available one year later.
The Kodak Brownie, a boxy camera using film, was commercially produced beginning in 1900. Other companies soon began developing their own cameras, with Nikon establishing a presence in 1917, and Leica producing the first 35mm camera in 1924. Kodachrome 35mm film became commercially available in 1936, which made color photography available to everyone. Fuji came onto the scene in 1938, offering cameras and film to the public.
When the first Polaroid camera made recorded images instantly available in 1936, it became all the rage.
Amateur photographers could view a photo within minutes and take another shot if unhappy with the result. This is also the year the first underwater camera became available and when the Instamatic by Kodak was released. Polaroid declared bankruptcy in 2001 after digital cameras replaced film.
Minolta produced the first camera that automatically brought images into focus in 1985. The first digital camera quickly followed in 1991 as technology advanced, with Kodak again leading the way. The company stopped making film cameras in 2004, devoting all production to digital products. The digital age completely changed the entire concept of photography by allowing almost instant access to images that can be shared globally via the Internet.