Click! Photography through the Lens of History

Click! A photograph is a precise record of an irretrievable instant, locked within the borders of a frame that transcends time. Did you know that the history of the camera predates the history of photography? Check out 100 Ideas that Changed Photography for more eye opening discoveries of how a room-sized device came to be held in the palm of our hands.

Once a purview of the few, cameras are, today, ubiquitous and unavoidable. A lot of thinking and experimentation went into the process of refining the photographic process. In A History of Photography in 50 Cameras you have a front row seat to technological changes that made it possible for the camera to become a necessary part and partner of memory making.

In the dawn of photography, a select group of individuals possessed the means, drive, time and capacity to engage in the pursuit of fixing an image upon a surface with something other than a paint brush, pencil or pen.

It wasn’t an isolated enterprise. Chinese philosopher Mozi [470-390 BCE] called the camera obscura a “locked treasure room.” In Iraq [1000 CE] the experiments and analysis in Ibn Al-Haytham’s Book of Optics included many firsts in the field of optical science. In Italy, Germany, France, England and Switzerland knowledge of how to fix or capture light was being expanded and refined. An account of the progression of the photograph, through the centuries, can be gleaned from Photography: The Definitive Visual History.

A photograph is a lasting image of a fleeting moment. Who is seeing and who or what is being seen? What is taking place inside the frame? What is being left out?

Today, we transverse time and distance in seconds, witness events occurring not only on the other side of the world, but light-years away. Early photographers traipsed the globe capturing images of a world in swift transition. Some, however, did not have to travel far.

Edward S. Curtis was one such individual. His photographs of “Princess Angeline,” daughter of Chief Sealth, are iconic in their documentation of a major historical event. The displacement and removal of Native Americans from ancestral lands gave impetus to Curtis to capture the “last vestiges” of what was then believed to be “a vanishing race.” As the video The Developing Image explores the proliferation of the photograph in society, we can see by juxtaposition how incredibly significant it is to have a collection the width and breadth of the Curtis images.

The visual lineage of Curtis’s photographs is part and parcel of the fabric of life in the Pacific Northwest. Photography has shaped the way we’ve come to understand the world in which we live. Photographs evidence attitudes, beliefs and ways of thinking about and understanding our history and place in the great continuum of time. We are able to see inside and outside of the frame. In fact, those people who have, historically, been out of the frame have inserted themselves into it.

Photo by Sharon Grainger

This year, The Seattle Public Library will host Beyond the Frame, a year-long commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edward S. Curtis (1868-2018) as well as the history and culture of Native Americans.  Join us as we explore – through exhibits, performances and special events – this monumental collection as well as the momentous changes wrought upon the indigenous peoples of this land. To better understand the role photography has played in shaping our world, check out the resource list Click! Photography through the Lens of History.

~ posted by Chris

One thought on “Click! Photography through the Lens of History”

  1. This has taken me beyond surprise! Can I use your article as an opening for the photography competition that I will be holding? Of course, I shall give full credit to your work! You are so amazing! By the way, I found you through WordPress’ featured sites.

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