100 Ideas that Changed Photography

Every so often, I am reminded of the tectonic shifts in photography that seem to skip under the radar in our exploding world of photography and photographers. No harm, no foul — but it snaps my head back into place when pointing these out from time to time.

Mary Warner Marian’s book 100 Ideas that Changed Photography” does a damn nice job highlighting some of these shifts. It’s her personal take on the most influential ideas that have shaped photography, from the daguerreotype in the early 19th century up to the digital revolution and beyond.

Now… top “100” lists are always risky business. Inevitable omissions beget unavoidable criticism; the author’s author-ity (and intelligence) gets questioned; the business of “TOP 100″ lists is decried. NO so long ago, when I created a little 240 page book of portraits titled “Seattle 100, which featured my personal curation of 106 people influentially driving culiture in Seattle, it was not to prescribe the “best” 100…not “THE” 100, but simply A 100 if you catch my drift. Fortunately for us, Marian’s book seems to take the same approach — curated list of her own design and one that I respect. Ultimately, this book is a reminder that much of the fear and chatter expressed in our modern day, the alleged affronts to the “craft” of photography by new technologies, are seriously misplaced. The art of capturing light has been evolving since Christian Gobrecht first illustrated the workings of a camera obscura.

As the author Marien puts it:

While it may seem that a new photo technology is born every day, photography is still what we make it, not what it makes us.


IDEA # 1: THE CAMERA OBSCURA When Christian Gobrecht illustrated the workings of a camera obscura for Abraham Rees’s The Cyclopedia or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature (1805-22), he was careful to show how the device created an inverted image.



IDEA # 13: COLLODION Photographers who used the collodion process had to process their glass plates before and after exposure. They brought a portable darkroom and sometimes employed assistants to help.

The Lens


IDEA # 9: THE LENS Specially designed weights or impromptu inventions were attached to the shutter to create timed lens exposures.



IDEA # 4: NEGATIVE/POSITIVE The negative formed the basis of photography until the digital age. It is based on the reversal of dark and light tone.


Images and captions courtesy of Laurence King.

22 Responses to 100 Ideas that Changed Photography

  1. Robie DuChateau February 15, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    Nice! Got this book as a Birthday gift two months ago. I agree, I think its a thoughtful list and well written. I have been using it as something of a filter, just compare my ideas with what has already been done in the past and what I can take and use today.

  2. Yair Haim February 15, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Awesome!! It’s amazing how much photography changed and keep on changing.

  3. Nikolay Mirchev February 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    “While it may seem that a new photo technology is born every day, photography is still what we make it, not what it makes us.” very true and sometimes annoying, but as the quote says it photography is in our hands the photographers not the manufacturers ;)

  4. faisal February 16, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    Shift happen all the time, we have to keep up with them.

  5. Studio Finch Jason February 18, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

    Awesome post – I with we could fast-forward 5-10 years to see what will happen next!

  6. Studio Finch Jason February 18, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    Awesome post – I wish we could fast-forward 5-10 years to see what will happen next!

  7. Rob Brook February 19, 2013 at 1:56 am #

    It will be interesting to see what happens in the next 5 to 10 years. Here are a few predicitions that might come true.
    1. The demise of the wedding album in favour of iPads
    2. Organic lens replacing glass. (scientists are growing meat now)

  8. Waleed Alzuhair February 26, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Any mention of Ibn Al-Haytham?
    “1021 AD Ibn al-Haytham (965 – 1039) The acknowledged father of modern optics, author of the greatly influential ‘Book of Optics’ gave the first clear description and correct analysis of the camera obscura and the diffraction of light.”
    Source: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Who_invented_the_camera

    He created it in a small chamber or cabin, which is incidentally called Qumra in Arabic, showing an upside down image.. Just google who invented the camera

  9. Brian Smith February 27, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    Any photography list that puts Andy Warhol in the Top-10 is cool with me,

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