Photos as History

I have always believed that photographs are history.  After attending a History of Photography presentation, I didn’t realize fully how far back photography can trace its roots.  My impression of photographic history extended back to the 1700s, but wow.  I was a bit off in that.  Aristotle was talking photography.  And that was a bit further back than the 1700s!

What does this all mean?  No, I’m not going to go through a history of photography, though maybe I will at some point.  What I’m getting at is that photography captures history.  It shares with the world, the way things were.  We use them to learn about the past, to learn about what our ancestor’s lived through, to learn about how we got to where we are.  It truly is remarkable how we can see realistically what it was like to live 100 or 200 years ago.

The very first photograph as we know photography today was produced in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, a French scientist.  This photograph took 8 hours to take (imagine having to stand around for that photo!):

View from the Window at Le Gras

What is to believed to be the very first photograph of a human being was taken in 1838 in Paris by Louis Jacques-Mande Daguerre (yes, that Daguerre!).  This image took 15-20 minutes to capture.  What’s truly the interesting part of this image is it was taken of a very busy street, the Boulevard du Temple, but because the exposure was so long, all the traffic on the street blurred and no one carriage or cart can be seen.  The reason the gentleman can be seen is because he stood in one place long enough to be imprinted on the image.  No one knows who is is, but it is thought he is the very first human being ever to be photographed.

First human photographed on the Boulevard du Temple in Paris

Photography has come a long way since it’s inception.  Today, it is used to remember people, places, events.  We use it to chronicle our lives, the lives of our family, children, pets, friends.  Every way you look at it, we use photography to remember our history.  It allows us a glimpse into the past, a glimpse into how we used to live and how far we have come.

But, photographs as history also allow us to see the big picture.  We can see images from around the world.  Images from the Civil War, images from Presidential swearing ins, coronations around the world, abdications, natural disasters, and any number of historical events are photographed and sent around the world via wire services.  American history and world history are at our finger tips like never before.  What we see as current events today, becomes the history of tomorrow.

Over the last several months, I started following MSNBC’s Photo Blog.  Images from all over the world are posted with accompanying descriptions.  The world’s history is told every day as news stories in photographs.  Human history captured and presented in an easy to understand format with pictures.   I do not propose that there are not other news blogs that give the same type of information – photographs with news – but this is the one I use.  If you believe that photos are necessary to understand the past, I highly recommend the MSNBC’s Photo Blog.  You will be among the first to see history in the making.


One comment on “Photos as History

  1. Mo says:

    The British Library recently held an exhbition on the history of photography, was incredibly interesting.

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