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History of Photography & Its Cultural Impact

The purpose of this research is to examine the history of photography and its cultural impact. The plan of the research will be to set forth the context and background for the emergence of photography as an instance of the fusing of applied art and applied science and then to discuss the evolution of photography as a reflection of and influence on culture.

From one point of view, the cultural impact of photography arises from the fact that it appeared in history. That is because photography is a technical, mechanical, chemical process that, in its earliest configuration did not necessarily lend itself to anything like cultural impact. "Photography is possible," says Coe, "because of the fact, known to the chemists of the eighteenth century, that most chemical compounds of silver darken on exposure to light" (Coe 9). The question of how to manipulate the compounds and the light, as well as the question of medium for creating and displaying the image, remained unresolved until 1837, with the appearance of the Daguerreotype, the name given to images created on printing plates treated with a compound of light, mercury vapor, silver, salt, and iodine or bromine (Coe 10). While the Daguerreotype represented an important technical advance in what could be called photographic science, the next 25 years saw an explosion of experimentation with light-sensitive media ranging from paper to glass to metal to gelatin, and with instruments designed to render images. By 1860, the daguerreotype, which required long light-exposure times and made portraiture difficult to achieve, had been eclipsed by photography per se, or more exactly by photographic praxis and processes that have present-day application (Coe 9-10). However, its impact on cultural discourse and experience was rather wider. Taft cites Hawthorne's daguerrotypist character (Holgrave) in House of the Seven Gables, published in 1850.

The history of photography as a technical process af...

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