I am taking a semester long independent study class on photography, and one of my goals is to learn a brief history of photography; are there any great resources that, without going into too much detail, outline this from the 1800s till recent times?

5 Answers 5


Jeff Curto of the College of DuPage releases podcasts recorded from the History of Photography course that he teaches. While a whole semester's worth of lectures would not count as "brief," a couple of early lectures each semester consist of an overview of the history of photography, and may be sufficient. Subsequent lectures address particular topics in greater detail.


The BBC had a documentary The Genius of Photography. I believe you can find extended segments of it (or the whole thing) on youtube or on the BBC site.

There is also a book based on the series


As with almost any question asking for an introductory history of something, Wikipedia is a great place to start. There's a whole article on the History of Photography. However, this focuses very heavily on the technical side of things, and is in some ways as if the article on history of music were solely this section.

Still, I think a good encyclopedia article is wanted here — a comprehensive overview that can be quickly read and which sticks to the highlights rather than digging into details. So, I'm going to point instead to Britannica's article on the History of Photography, which covers technological advances but also the artistic and social development of the medium, including many references to important and influential photographers. It's really very good. The bibliography of the article should provide some good further reading as well.


Apart from the fact that it stops at just about the point that digital photography makes its entrance, the book On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography is a superb and copiously-illustrated reference (with excellent printing). It appears to be out of print now, but is still available online (for less than I remember paying for it around 1990), and should be available in good libraries. If you do decide to buy it, it's a beautiful book that is worth having for more than just a historian's interest.

  • Dear Stan (@stan), does this book have a history of technical details, such as evolution of camera mechanisms, lens design etc? Sep 18, 2013 at 15:12

About the initial, pioneeristic period, I have read and recommend a short monograph (about 120 pages) by Beaumont Newhall, Latent Image. Given the time he is describing, the focus is on the researches and the debates of these great people (Niepce, Talbot, Herschel, Daguerre and so on), with a focus on the historical (lifes of the people involved, interactions among them) and scientifical aspect.

Reproduction of the first images are contained within the book, including some early daguerrotypes, Talbot's first negative and so on).

The author, Newhall, has written a History of Photography from 1839 to present which, unfortunately, I have not read yet. From what I've read, I can imagine that it is a must-read book.

As an aside, the monograph contains a reference to "Talbot, William Henry Fox, The Pencil of Nature, London, 1844-1846" which is the first book illustrated by photographs. Apparently this book is available in modern printings.

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