The word photography comes from two Greek words meaning “light” and “drawing.” Photography is the process and the art of creating fixed images using the action of light on a chemically prepared surface.
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833) took the first photograph c. 1827. However, his process needed eight hours of exposure to light, and the picture was fuzzy. In 1837 Louis Daguerre (1787–1851) created a sharp but one-use image in a few minutes. In 1839 William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) presented negative film and prints—still the basis for today’s photography.
In the early days of photography, cameras were large and cumbersome, and pictures were made on individual glass plates. The big breakthrough came when George Eastman (1854–1932) invented flexible film. In 1888, he introduced the Kodak camera—it was small, light, and loaded with a roll of film. The craze for snapshot photography soon spread.
The influence has always worked both ways. In the early days of snapshots, for example, Impressionist painters were inspired by their accidental effects, such as the blurring of moving figures, and figures being cropped by the photo’s edge. Photographic portraits and landscapes are often inspired by painted ones.
In photography, all colors can be made up from mixtures of red, blue, and green. Color film has three layers of light-sensitive material, each of which reacts to one of these colors. Colored dyes are produced in each layer, and the layers combine to make the photographic image.
Since the 19th century, documentary photographers have recorded the experiences of others. Photographs of Victorian street sellers or of poverty-stricken US farmers in the Great Depression made a huge impact on public awareness. Tragic images of the Vietnam War reduced public support for the war in the US.
Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) developed a technique for taking a rapid sequence of photographs, which revealed surprising truths about the way animals moved. Before his photographs were published, painters wrongly depicted galloping horses with all four legs outstretched.