We all know how easy it is to snap shots, but the numbers are still astounding. It is estimated that humans will take about 1.5 trillion photographs in 2021, give or take a billion or two. There have been over 30 billion photographs uploaded to Instagram since its launch in 2010. And between us all, there are an estimated 7 trillion photographs in existence in one form or another. More than any other art form, photography has become our go-to creative expression.
Our obsession began over two hundred years ago when French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the first photograph out of his Paris apartment window in 1825. Other people had created images more than twenty years before, but Niépce was the first to discover how to fix the image and make it permanent. He had invented photography.
Early cameras were heavy, intricate objects that required a lot of set up. Film didn’t exist, so each picture had to be exposed onto a glass plate prepared with a delicate mixture of chemicals. And it was a slow process, with early photographs often taking hours to soak up enough light to create an image.
It wasn’t really until the Kodak Brownie arrived in 1900 that photography was within reach of the rest of us. This pocket camera was simple enough and—most importantly—cheap enough for the average person. As a hobby of the masses, photography soon took off in a major way.
Then, photography was invented a second time. Although cameras had become increasingly sophisticated during the 20th century, they created a photograph in much the same way as in 1825 Paris. In 1975, Kodak invented the digital camera – no film and an instantaneous image. As before, many others worked to perfect the new technology, but it still took them a couple of decades to create a high-quality, affordable camera. And once it was merged into the mobile phone, suddenly millions had one in their pockets.
And the rest is history, if a very short one by comparison! Today, taking a photograph has become so ubiquitous it’s a part of our everyday social language. And with recent events affecting us all so directly, taking a picture has shifted. It’s not just about us enjoying an art form; photography has also become our journal and how we preserve our story.