To celebrate 170 years of the camera in the public domain, a look back at how landmark photographs created – and then re-constructed – the history of photography.
170 years ago, in the summer of 1839, Louis Daguerre convinced the government of France to purchase his invention on behalf of the people of France.
On 13 September 1839, the daguerreotype was first exhibited in Piccadilly, London.
Eugene Atget’s Rue de Seine, 1924
Rue de Seine is one of the most reproduced images by the French photographer from his important archive of Paris. His pictures would pave the way for a generation of photographers who took to the streets of Paris in the early Twentieth Century, including Brassai and Cartier-Bresson.
William Eggleston’s Tricycle, Memphis 1969-71
Like Atget, Eggleston pictured everyday objects and places. However, rather than archives of historic interest, they deliberately set out to monumentalise the banal. This photograph was among the first colour photographs to be exhibited in an art gallery (MOMA, 1976). The show legitimised colour photography as an artistic medium.
August Sander’s Secretary at a Radio Station circa 1930
German photographer Sander set out to catalogue ‘types’ in society. Each picture in his seven-volume collection reflects Sander’s attitude towards photography’s purposefulness: “nothing is more hateful to me than photography sugar-coated with gimmicks, poses and false-effects”.
Diane Arbus’ Child With a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, 1962
Diane Arbus’ subjects are shot with a similar cold objectivity to Sander’s. However, rather than constructing and recording society’s “types”, she set out to find individuals who, arguably, refuse to be typecast.
Photograph as art
Edward Weston’s Excusado, 1925
Weston famously spent a week experimenting with light and rearranging the angle so that he could prove that even a Mexican toilet bowl could be beautiful behind the lens of a camera. Photography should not have to rival painting but should be respected in its own right, he believed.
Wolfgang Tillmans’ Concorde, 1997
The first artist working with photography at the center of his practice to have won the Turner Prize, with this series of concorde pictures. It marked the triumph of the idea over the beautiful – or the beautifully photographed – object, in photography.
Cecil Beaton’s Maralyn Monroe, 1956
Beaton’s ability to bring out the personalities and flair of his sitters resulted in his iconic portraits that would influence celebrity snapshots from the 1920s to the present day.
Cindy Sherman’s Unititled: Film Still Series, 1978
Sherman’s Film Stills series satirically re-creates clichés in the pop-culture image.
Robert Frank’s Cowboy, 1955
Robert Frank looked beneath the surface of the nation’s identity and helped redefine the icons of America.
Richard Prince’s Untitled (cowboy), 1989
Shoddily re-photographing the heroic Marlboro Men Prince played on established icons and well-recognised images of branding to critique American commercialism.
Muybridge’s The Horse In Motion, 1878 (woodcut recreation of the photograph)
Muybridge’s photographed a horse in fast motion using a series of twenty-four cameras to prove that horses hooves all leave the ground at the same time, during a gallop. The photographer used a series of cameras with trip wires attached to the shutters to be triggered by the horses hooves. The cameras were spaced at regular intervals and covered the length of one horse stride. His studies of movement are thought to have been the inspiration for works by other artists and photographers including Francis Bacon and Marcel Duchamp.
John Baldessari’s Throwing Four Balls in the Air to get a Straight Line (Best of 36 Attempts), 1974
Baldessari’s photographs of sequences, showing performed attempts at accomplishing an arbitrary goal, use banal humour to reduce contemporary art theory to the absurd. In this series of pictures, he photographed 36 attempts becuase that is the standard number of negatives in a film.