Art Principles and History

Art Fundamentals

What is photography?

In Greek, phos means “light” and graph means “drawing”; therefore, photograph literally means, “light drawing.” The word itself gives insight into the process of photography, which was invented in the nineteenth century, and involves capturing fixed images through the exposure of light-sensitive materials using a camera. A camera is essentially a light-proof box with photographic film inside. The photographer focuses the camera on a desired scene and then briefly exposes the film to the light from the scene by quickly opening and closing the camera’s shutter. Light-sensitive chemicals covering the film react to the light. In a dark room, the film is submerged into developer to make a negative image. It is now common for contemporary photographers to complete this process digitally. Photography is arguably one of the most significant inventions in history. First thought of as a merely scientific endeavor, photography has become an important art medium. (For more information on the invention of photography, including daguerreotypes, please see the chapter on “From the Industrial Revolution to World War I, c. 1850–1914.” Modern and contemporary photographers are covered in the chapter on “Contemporary Art 1960s to Present.”)


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