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Photography as we know it today wasn’t an invention that appeared, fully formed, overnight. Rather its arrival was a gradual process over nearly a century with each step refining or moving on from the innovation that came before it. It is hard to talk of the ‘inventor’ of photography since there are so many types of process that could qualify as a ‘photograph’ and so many different starting points for each type of technology.

So here’s a list of five major innovations that have shaped our idea of photography and some of the people we should be thankful to for helping to give us the astonishing little devices we all own today.

The first colour photo

James Clerk Maxwell was born in Scotland in 1831. Throughout the scientific community he is known as the mathematician and physicist who unified the theory of electromagnetism. But Maxwell was also responsible for the first colour photograph.

The image in question is a tartan ribbon photographed by Thomas Sutton at a lecture given by Maxwell in 1861. (Sutton himself went on to invent the Single Lens Reflex camera). It was made up of three exposures through red, green and blue filters. This colour plate – and two others – are now housed in a small Museum in Edinburgh in the house where Maxwell was born.

Photography for all: The Box Brownie

When the Eastman Kodak Box Brownie was first introduced in 1900 it was marketed as low-cost and simple photography (the first cameras sold for just $1). Due to its accessibility and cheap processing the Brownie is widely regarded as having instigated the notion of a ‘snap-shot’. Bizarrely, Kodak named their egalitarian cardboard box camera after Canadian Palmer Cox’s cartoon character stories.

Back in 1908, Austrian architecture critic Joseph August Lux argued that the accessibility of the camera meant everyday people could document their environments and gain some sense of permanence in the hectic rise and fall of the modern world. One wonders just what Herr Lux would have made of 2012?

The 35mm revolution

The arrival of 35mm film liberated photographers, changed what could be photographed and consequently re-wrote the history of photography. Leica initially led the way with the UR and followed it with the legendary Leica I in 1925. Contax got into the game next in 1932 and were rapidly followed by Kodak in 1934 and Canon in 1936.

 Earlier this year, a 1923 35mm Leica sold at auction for £1.7 million – thus making it the most expensive camera ever sold! Digital may be the future, but the 35mm legacy still pulls at our heart (and purse) strings!

The man who made time stand still 

Although a form of artificial flashing light was developed in the late 19th century, it was in the early 1930s that Nebraskan engineer Harold E. Edgerton came up with a repeatable short-duration electronic flash (stroboscopic light). His strobe lights were capable of firing 120 per second and could capture balloons bursting, drops hitting the surface of water and, famously, a bullet passing through a playing card.

These happenings were genuinely too fast for the human eye to see and so his flash technology not only changed photography, but also how we all view the world.  

A billion camera phones

Whatever your opinion on everyone documenting their daily activities there is no denying the way in which the camera-phone has affected our world – and the onward development of our notion of photography. Everything in our day, from personal experiences to the news content we consume, is delivered through our camera-phones.

Cameras are no longer only whipped out at special occasions, by the few who remember to bring them; they are now an omnipresent aspect of our lives, wielded by everyone from 6 year olds to octogenarians. It’s sometimes hard to believe that these little devices have only been around for 12 years… And frankly its mind boggling to wonder about what is still to come.

These have all had a profound effect upon our lives, but have we missed any you think deserve a mention? If so, let us know in the comments below.

Image credit: Leiris202