The World of Photography–Chapter Two–The History of Photography

In this chapter I will discuss the history of photography. When you ask the average person if they know the names of any famous photographers, they may mention Mathew Brady and Ansel Adams. Maybe a few more of you might even mention Andy Warhol and Peter Lik, but I bet the vast majority will be unable to name any more names than that. I can name a few more, however I have an unfair advantage, because I have been serious about photography for well over forty years.

Even though most of these famous photographers are only known to other industry professionals there are a lot more out there than the ones that I mentioned above. They have all helped to advance the discipline of photography. I will start this chapter out with a partial list of some of these photographers. No one list covers all the important photographers, so I will make up my own list.

37 Influential and Famous Photographers

-Joseph Nicephore Niepce 1765-1833: commonly known or referred to simply as Nicéphore Niépce, was a French inventor, usually credited as the inventor of photography and a pioneer in that field.

-Mathew Brady 1822-1896: was one of the earliest photographers in American history. Best known for his scenes of the Civil War, he studied under inventor Samuel Morse, who pioneered the daguerreotype technique in America. 

-Alfred Stieglitz 1864-1946: was an American photographer and modern art promoter who was instrumental over his 50-year career in making photography an accepted art form.

-Edward S. Curtis 1868-1952: Edward Sherriff Curtis was an American photographer and ethnologist whose work focused on the American West and on Native American people.

-Edward Henry Weston 1886-1958: was a 20th-century American photographer. He has been called “one of the most innovative and influential American photographers…” and “one of the masters of 20th century photography.”

-Paul Strand 1890-1976: was an American photographer and filmmaker who, along with fellow modernist photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston, helped establish photography as an art form in the 20th century. 

-Dorothea Lange 1895-1965: was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration. Lange’s photographs influenced the development of documentary photography and humanized the consequences of the Great Depression. 

-Brassi 1899-1984: was a Hungarian–French photographer, sculptor, medalist, writer, and filmmaker who rose to international fame in France in the 20th century. He was one of the numerous Hungarian artists who flourished in Paris beginning between the world wars.

-Eliot F. Porter 1901-1990: was an American photographer best known for his color photographs of nature. 

-Ansel E. Adams 1902-1984: was an American landscape photographer and environmentalist known for his black-and-white images of the American West. He helped found Group f/64, an association of photographers advocating “pure” photography which favored sharp focus and the use of the full tonal range of a photograph. 

-Doc Edgerton 1903-1990: Harold Eugene “Doc” Edgerton, also known as Papa Flash, was an American scientist and researcher, a professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is largely credited with transforming the stroboscope from an obscure laboratory instrument into a common device. 

-Horst P. Horst 1906-1999: was a German-American fashion photographer.

-Yousuf Karsh 1908-2002: CC RCA FRPS was a Canadian-Armenian photographer known for his portraits of notable individuals. He has been described as one of the greatest portrait photographers of the 20th century. An Armenian genocide survivor, Karsh migrated to Canada as a refugee. 

-Henri Carter-Bresson 1908-2004: was a French humanist photographer considered a master of candid photography, and an early user of 35 mm film. He pioneered the genre of street photography, and viewed photography as capturing a decisive moment. Cartier-Bresson was one of the founding members of Magnum Photos in 1947. 

-Julius Shulman 1910-2009: was an American architectural photographer best known for his photograph “Case Study House #22, Los Angeles, 1960. Pierre Koenig, Architect.” The house is also known as the Stahl House. Shulman’s photography spread the aesthetic of California’s Mid-century modern architecture around the world.

-Robert Doisneau 1912-1994: was a French photographer. From the 1930s, he photographed the streets of Paris. He was a champion of humanist photography and with Henri Cartier-Bresson a pioneer of photojournalism.

-Robert Capa 1913-1954: was a Hungarian-American war photographer and photojournalist as well as the companion and professional partner of photographer Gerda Taro. He is considered by some to be the greatest combat and adventure photographer in history. 

-W. Eugene Smith 1918-1978: He has been described as “perhaps the single most important American photographer in the development of the editorial photo essay.”[ His major photo essays include World War II photographs, the visual stories of an American country doctor and a nurse midwife, the clinic of Albert Schweitzer in French Equatorial Africa, the city of Pittsburgh, and the pollution which damaged the health of the residents of Minamata in Japan. His 1948 series, Country Doctor, photographed for Life, is now recognized as “the first extended editorial photo story”.

-Arnold Newman 1918-2006: was an American photographer, noted for his “environmental portraits” of artists and politicians.

– Richard Avedon 1923-2004: was an American fashion and portrait photographer. He worked for Harper’s BazaarVogue and Elle specializing in capturing movement in still pictures of fashion, theater and dance. An obituary published in The New York Times said that “his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century”.

-Robert Frank 1924-2019: was a Swiss photographer and documentary filmmaker, who became an American binational. His most notable work, the 1958 book titled The Americans, earned Frank comparisons to a modern-day de Tocqueville for his fresh and nuanced outsider’s view of American society. The Americans “changed the nature of photography, what it could say and how it could say it…. remains perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century.” Frank later expanded into film and video and experimented with manipulating photographs and photomontage.

-Andy Warhol 1928-1987: was an American visual artist, film director, and producer who was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art.

-Don McCullin 1935-: is arguably Britain’s greatest living photographer. For the past 50 years he has proved himself a photojournalist without equal.

-William Eggleston 1939-: is an American photographer. He is widely credited with increasing recognition for color photography as a legitimate artistic medium. Eggleston’s books include William Eggleston’s Guide (1976) and The Democratic Forest (1989).

-Sebastiao Salgado 1944-: is a Brazilian social documentary photographer and photojournalist.

-Stephen Shore 1947-: is an American photographer known for his images of banal scenes and objects, and for his pioneering use of color in art photography. His books include Uncommon Places (1982) and American Surfaces (1999), photographs that he took on cross-country road trips in the 1970s. In 1975 Shore received a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1971, he was the first living photographer to be exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where he had a solo show of black and white photographs.

-Paolo Roversi 1947-: is an Italian-born fashion photographer who lives and works in Paris. 

-Anne Leibwitz 1949-: is an American portrait photographer best known for her engaging portraits, particularly of celebrities, which often feature subjects in intimate settings and poses. The Library of Congress declared her a Living Legend, and she is the first woman to have a feature exhibition at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery.

-Steve McCurry 1950-: is an American photographer, freelancer, and photojournalist. His photo Afghan Girl, of a girl with piercing green eyes, has appeared on the cover of National Geographic several times. McCurry has photographed many assignments for National Geographic and has been a member of Magnum Photos since 1986.

-Frans Lanting 1951-: is a Dutch National Geographic photographer, author and speaker. He is considered one of the greatest photographers of the natural world in the contemporary times. 

-Cindy Morris Sherman 1954-: is an American artist whose work consists primarily of photographic self-portraits, depicting herself in many different contexts and as various imagined characters. Her breakthrough work is often considered to be the collected “Untitled Film Stills“, a series of 70 black-and-white photographs of herself evoking typical women roles in performance media (especially arthouse films and popular B-movies). In the 1980s, she used color film and large prints, and focused more on costume, lighting and facial expression.

-Steven Meisel 1954-: is an American fashion photographer, who obtained popularity and critical acclaim with his work in Vogue and Vogue Italia as well as his photographs of friend Madonna in her 1992 book, Sex. He is now considered one of the most successful fashion photographers in the industry, shooting regularly for both US and Italian Vogue, and lately W and British Vogue.

-Marro Testino 1954-: is a Peruvian fashion and portrait photographer. His work has featured internationally in magazines such as VogueV Magazine, Vanity Fair and GQ. He has also created images for brands such as GucciBurberryVersaceMichael KorsChanelStuart WeitzmanCarolina Herrera and Estée Lauder.

-Andreas Gursky 1955-: is a German photographer and professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Germany. He is known for his large format architecture and landscape colour photographs, often using a high point of view. His works reach some of the highest prices in the art market among living photographers.

-Anne Geddes 1956-: is an Australian-born, New York City-based portrait photographer known primarily for her elaborately-staged photographs of infants.

-Peter Lik 1959-: is an Australian photographer best known for his nature and panoramic landscape images. He hosted From the Edge with Peter Lik, which aired for one season on The Weather Channel.

-David LaChapelle 1963-: is an American photographer, music video director and film director. He is best known for his work in fashion, photography, which often references art history and sometimes conveys social messages. His photographic style has been described as “hyper-real and slyly subversive” and as “kitsch pop surrealism“.[1][2] Once called the Fellini of photography, LaChapelle has worked for international publications and has had his work exhibited in commercial galleries and institutions around the world.

A Brief History of Photography and the Camera

Explore the Major Advances in the History of Photography

Photography has come a long way in its relatively short history. In almost 200 years, the camera developed from a plain box that took blurry photos to the high-tech mini computers found in today’s DSLRs and smartphones.

The story of photography is fascinating and it’s possible to go into great detail. However, let’s take a brief look at the highlights and major developments of this scientific art form.

The First Cameras

The basic concept of photography has been around since about the 5th century B.C.E. It wasn’t until an Iraqi scientist developed something called the camera obscura in the 11th century that the art was born.

Even then, the camera did not actually record images, it simply projected them onto another surface. The images were also upside down, though they could be traced to create accurate drawings of real objects such as buildings.

The first camera obscura used a pinhole in a tent to project an image from outside the tent into the darkened area. It was not until the 17th century that the camera obscura became small enough to be portable. Basic lenses to focus the light were also introduced around this time.

The First Permanent Images

Photography, as we know it today, began in the late 1830s in France. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce used a portable camera obscura to expose a pewter plate coated with bitumen to light. This is the first recorded image that did not fade quickly.

Niépce’s success led to a number of other experiments and photography progressed very rapidly. Daguerreotypes, emulsion plates, and wet plates were developed almost simultaneously in the mid- to late-1800s.

With each type of emulsion, photographers experimented with different chemicals and techniques. The following are the three that were instrumental in the development of modern photography.


Niépce’s experiment led to a collaboration with Louis Daguerre. The result was the creation of the daguerreotype, a forerunner of modern film.

-A copper plate was coated with silver and exposed to iodine vapor before it was exposed to light.

-To create the image on the plate, the early daguerreotypes had to be exposed to light for up to 15 minutes.

-The daguerreotype was very popular until it was replaced in the late 1850s by emulsion plates.

Emulsion Plates

Emulsion plates, or wet plates, were less expensive than daguerreotypes and required only two or three seconds of exposure time. This made them much more suited to portrait photographs, which was the most common use of photography at the time. Many photographs from the Civil War were produced on wet plates.

These wet plates used an emulsion process called the Collodion process, rather than a simple coating on the image plate. It was during this time that bellows were added to cameras to help with focusing.

Two common types of emulsion plates were the ambrotype and the tintype. Ambrotypes used a glass plate instead of the copper plate of the daguerreotypes. Tintypes used a tin plate. While these plates were much more sensitive to light, they had to be developed quickly. Photographers needed to have chemistry on hand and many traveled in wagons that doubled as a darkroom.

Dry Plates

In the 1870s, photography took another huge leap forward. Richard Maddox improved on a previous invention to make dry gelatine plates that were nearly equal to wet plates in speed and quality.

These dry plates could be stored rather than made as needed. This allowed photographers much more freedom in taking photographs. The process also allowed for smaller cameras that could be hand-held. As exposure times decreased, the first camera with a mechanical shutter was developed.

Cameras for Everyone

Photography was only for professionals and the very rich until George Eastman started a company called Kodak in the 1880s.

Eastman created a flexible roll film that did not require constantly changing the solid plates. This allowed him to develop a self-contained box camera that held 100 film exposures. The camera had a small single lens with no focusing adjustment.

The consumer would take pictures and send the camera back to the factory for the film to be developed and prints made, much like modern disposable cameras. This was the first camera inexpensive enough for the average person to afford.

The film was still large in comparison to today’s 35mm film. It was not until the late 1940s that 35mm film became cheap enough for the majority of consumers to use.

Vintage camera and films, Nancy, France

The Horrors of War

Around 1930, Henri-Cartier Bresson and other photographers began to use small 35mm cameras to capture images of life as it occurred rather than staged portraits. When World War II started in 1939, many photojournalists adopted this style.

The posed portraits of World War I soldiers gave way to graphic images of war and its aftermath. Images such as Joel Rosenthal’s photograph, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima brought the reality of war home and helped galvanize the American people like never before. This style of capturing decisive moments shaped the face of photography forever.

The Wonder of Instant Images

At the same time that 35mm cameras were becoming popular, Polaroid introduced the Model 95. Model 95 used a secret chemical process to develop film inside the camera in less than a minute.

This new camera was fairly expensive but the novelty of instant images caught the public’s attention. By the mid-1960s, Polaroid had many models on the market and the price had dropped so that even more people could afford it.

In 2008, Polaroid stopped making their famous instant film and took their secrets with them. Many groups such as The Impossible Project and Lomography have tried to revive instant film with limited success. As of 2018, it remains difficult to replicate the quality that was found in a Polaroid.

Stack of photographs, taken for vacation, Saipan

Advanced Image Control

While the French introduced the permanent image, the Japanese brought easier image control to the photographer.

In the 1950s, Asahi (which later became Pentax) introduced the Asahiflex and Nikon introduced its Nikon F camera. These were both SLR-type cameras and the Nikon F allowed for interchangeable lenses and other accessories.

For the next 30 years, SLR-style cameras remained the camera of choice. Many improvements were introduced to both the cameras and the film itself.

Young Woman Photographing Outdoors

Introducing Smart Cameras

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, compact cameras that were capable of making image control decisions on their own were introduced. These “point and shoot” cameras calculated shutter speed, aperture, and focus, leaving photographers free to concentrate on composition.

The automatic cameras became immensely popular with casual photographers. Professionals and serious amateurs continued to prefer to make their own adjustments and enjoyed the image control available with SLR cameras.

Mother taking a picture of baby girl
 Stephen Chiang / Getty Images

The Digital Age

In the 1980s and 1990s, numerous manufacturers worked on cameras that stored images electronically. The first of these were point-and-shoot cameras that used digital media instead of film.

By 1991, Kodak had produced the first digital camera that was advanced enough to be used successfully by professionals. Other manufacturers quickly followed and today Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and other manufacturers offer advanced digital SLR (DSLR) cameras.

Even the most basic point-and-shoot camera now takes higher quality images than Niépce’s pewter plate, and smartphones can easily pull off a high-quality printed photograph.

The Camera Obscura and the Origins of Photography


The roots of photography extend back further than you might assume. In the 4th Century BC, Aristotle made use of the principles of the camera obscura, in which an image is projected through a small hole. Through a camera obscura’s pinhole, the image of the world is often reversed or upside-down. While our notion of a camera has evolved dramatically, the “camera obscura” is considered the ancient building block upon which further revolutionary developments and inventions in the field of photography were built.


Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and Louis Daguerre are often considered the inventors of photography with cameras as we now know it. The former started out experimenting with silver chloride and silver halide photography, but couldn’t figure out how to prevent them from darkening with exposure to light.

-In 1839, with exposure times of just a few seconds, the daguerreotype first became a means of using photography commercially for portraits. This has proven to be a critical juncture in the history of photograph when it comes to the proliferation of cameras and the success of the medium.

-Just a few years later, William Henry Fox Talbot came up with the calotype process. This was the first process that let photographers create a negative from which multiple prints could be made.

-In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer introduced the collodion wet plate process, which produced a negative image on a transparent glass plate. Although it was surpassed by the gelatin dry plate process in the late 1800s, the collodion process was used for tintype portraits and in the printing industry well into the 1900s.


These days we think of the camera as an artist’s tool, similar to a painter’s brush. But before photography became its own art form, painting was especially dominant in the art world. In the 1800s and in the beginning of the 1900s, artists regarded photographers as inferior competition. Traditionally, people would have their portraits made by painters, who were now starting to fear for their livelihood. Regardless, the first artists soon began to integrate the camera and photography into their repertoire.

The first “selfie” ever was taken in 1839 by American lamp-maker and photography enthusiast Robert Cornelius using the daguerreotype process. Business-minded photographers immediately recognized the commercial value of easily reproducible images.

With their erotic, nude photographs in the 1850s, Alexis Gouin and Bruno Braquehais produced the predecessors to the classic pin-up photograph. They sold well, which should come as no surprise – “sex sells” was every bit as accurate then as it is now. These days, nude photography is still part of many photographer’s portfolios, although few are able to walk the narrow line between aesthetic and erotic images.“Halbakt mit Perlenkette”Alexis Gouin

The History and Development of Photography


After their invention, it took a long time for photographs and cameras to develop into what we have come to know today. This required more revolutionary ideas and exciting reinventions, which we can now look back on as milestones in the history of photography.

The film roll: In 1889, George Eastman created the roll of film, which made it possible to shoot multiple pictures one after the other. He released it through his company Kodak, and it was a breakthrough in the practical application of photography. It made snapshots possible, and no longer did the images need to be immediately and individually processed. In the same year, Thomas Edison cut it down the middle and added perforated edges, establishing the 35mm format that became so prevalent later.

The 35mm cameraThe first Leica camera was developed by Oskar Barnack. Introduced in 1925, the Leica prototype used a small-format, 35mm film. In comparison to the bulky box cameras previously in use, the compact Leica camera was a highly modern improvement.

-Color photos: In 1936, photographic technology took an exciting step forward with advances in color film. Kodak released Kodachrome, a film with multiple layers for developing in color.

I have been watching a three part documentary on the hollocaust and the history of the Jewish people in the twentieth century and frankly I was amazed at the quality of the B/W photos that they are showing in these episodes. No wonder it took so long for color film to beat out B/W film. Even today many fine art photographers still shoot B/W. There is no denyong the impact these photos make.

Polaroid Pictures: Around that time, the first instant camera was also invented. The aesthetic is as popular as ever, enthusiastically coopted by photo services such as Instagram. The Polaroid camera introduced by Edwin H. Land in 1848 was capable of producing a fully developed photo shortly after taking it.

The Digital Camera: While the concept of digital cameras has existed since the 1960s, the camera Steven Sasson of Eastman Kodak built in 1975 is generally considered the first self-contained digital camera. Much like photography with film, advances in the technology have led to explosive growth in the medium’s popularity.

Classics from the History of Photography: Heinrich Heidersberger and Alfred Eisenstaedt

Over the years, photographers and artists experimented with the possibilities afforded them by new technologies and camera innovations in order to create fascinating and enduring works that would go down in photographic history.

With his “Dress of Light” series near the end of the 1940s, photographer Heinrich Heidersberger created some of the most revolutionary images. He created these iconic black-and-white images for Henri Nannen’s newly founded Stern magazine. It was cause for an uproar in prude, post-war Germany. Today, the pictures are photo art classics, globally respected for their innovative technical execution and aesthetic. The idea for these photographs was as simple as it was ingenious: Heidersberger fashioned a cooking pot into a “light gun” to “clothe” naked female bodies with patterns of stripes and dots made entirely of light and shadow. The images were a sensation.

In this way, he combined nude photography with experimental photography in a way that had never been seen before. He depicted unclothed women with his camera in such a way that they do not seem naked. Although the nude female form is at the center of these experimental photos, it is so largely as a canvas on which a game of light and shadow plays out.


Photography confronts us with stories and aspects of life that we might otherwise never notice. And this has always been the case! An early pair of daguerreotypes paved the way for the genre of street photography. But probably the most famous champion of “slice of life” photography was Alfred Eisenstaedt. He never committed to specific photographic subjects, using his camera to capture historical figures and unknown everymen alike. One especially impressive example of the latter would be his pictures form the workers in a spaghetti factory. Nothing in these images is staged or specially lit. It is the individual circumstances that gives his pictures their vitality – pictures that tell an entire story of their own. They bring us close to the three Neapolitan boys and show us spaghetti hung out to dry like laundry in the Italian factory.

Lenses, f-stops and film speeds are not the only factors in great pictures. The location and the right light are every bit as important. But the most important is the exact instant when the photographer presses the shutter. With a talent for sensing that exact split-second, photographer Will McBride came to photograph political heavyweights including John F. Kennedy and Willy Brandt, documenting moments in world history.

The road to digital photography


In the medium’s early days, advancements in the technology made the photographic apparatuses easier to use. By the 1950s, they had developed into the comfortable-to-use devices we now know.

-In 1956, Agfa released the first camera with aperture priority, meaning photographers no longer needed to set the exposure time themselves.

-A few years later in 1963, Canon introduced its first camera prototype with autofocus, a development making snapshots much easier for the everyday photographer.

-Rollei presented the first fully automatic camera about 10 years later. Aperture, shutter speed, focus – photographers no longer needed to set these themselves to create a usable image.


With the digital revolution at the end of the 20th century, once again, the world experienced photography in a new light. Photos no longer needed to be produced on analog mediums, but could be saved and edited digitally instead. This simplified the editing process tremendously.

This digitalization also brought unimaginable possibilities in photographic post-processing. Artists put the technology to the widest variety of creative uses. Pep Ventosa, for example, digitally layers countless individual images. Sabine Wild does intricate line-based editing, and Isabelle Menin uses computers to assemble photographs into floral compositions. All three are evidence of the medium’s sheer boundless potential.

The History of Photography: Short and Sweet

Since Nièpce and Daguerre introduced photography in 1839, the medium developed very quickly. A look back at how photography developed shows how many different ways artists are able to use the medium, from the first nude images to slice of life photography to classic portraits and fashion photography. Currently, with all of the possibilities afforded us by modern digital photography and image editing, we are at a high point for the medium.

Want to purchase classic photographic works in wall-ready art? In the LUMAS collection, you will find an expertly curated selection of works in the most successful medium of all time. Get swept away by the latest creations from these artists and photographers! Explore the fascinating world of photography with LUMAS and start your own art collection with a piece of photographic history.

The History of Photography Timeline

Explore the development of western photography through these special selections from our collection.

The earliest known surviving negative; a seminal portrayal of poverty by Dorothea Lange; humour and pathos captured by Tony Ray-Jones, Richard Billingham and Martin Parr.

From 1835 to the early 21st century, our curators have picked some of the most important and memorable images in our care, providing a fascinating glimpse into the history of photography.


Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey, William Henry Fox Talbot, 1835.
William Henry Fox Talbot, Science Museum Group collection

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) is a key figure in the history of photography: he invented early photographic processes and established the basic principle of photography as a negative/positive process.

In 1834, five years before the public announcement of the daguerreotype, Talbot developed a process which produced a negative image on sensitised paper. The negative could then be used to create multiple positive photographs by contact printing. This photograph, Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey, taken in August 1835, is the earliest known surviving negative.

In September 1840, Talbot made a further vital breakthrough when he discovered that invisible, or ‘latent’, images were formed on sensitised paper even after relatively short exposure times. These images could be made visible, or ‘developed’, if treated with chemicals. By inventing the processes needed to make latent images visible and ‘fix’ them to stop them from fading, Talbot made the future development of photography possible.

Cyanotype, from Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns, Anna Atkins, 1851.
Anna Atkins, Science Museum Group collection

Anna Atkins (1799–1871) was one of the first female photographers and is known for having produced the first photographically illustrated book in Britain. Entitled British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, the three-volume publication appeared in instalments over a ten-year period from 1843 onwards. The completed work contained over 400 photographs of British algae. Sir John Herschel had invented the cyanotype process in 1842, and Atkins used it to make her images.

Cyanotypes, also known as blueprints and commonly used by the engineering industry, were made using chemically photosensitive paper. Relatively cheap and easy to produce, cyanotypes became very popular in 19th century amateur photographic circles.

Atkins made her images by laying specimens directly onto sensitised paper and exposing them to sunlight. Once exposed, the prints needed only washing and drying, as no further chemicals were required in the production of the images.

Atkins went on to produce several more cyanotype albums featuring many striking images, mainly of ferns and other plants. This particular image dates from 1851 and bears the inscription ‘From the great conservatory, Chatsworth’. It is now kept in the National Science and Media Museum collection, along with the rest of the album.

Reginald Southey and Skeletons, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), 1857.
Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), Science Museum Group collection

Although known primarily as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1872), Lewis Carroll (1832–1898) was also a mathematics lecturer at Oxford University, a Deacon at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford and an accomplished photographer. Carroll, christened Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, practised photography for over 25 years and photographed hundreds of sitters in his Oxford studio.

This image shows Carroll’s great friend and photography teacher Reginald Southey with human and monkey skeletons and skulls. It appears to be a reference to the debates regarding Darwinism and theories of evolution which were raging at Oxford at the time. It may perhaps suggest Southey’s intellectual position on the theory.

Carroll was a fine photographer whose skills were respected among his circle and beyond. His creativity was particularly evident in his composition and camera angles. Along with his technical skill, it resulted in the production of many striking photographs, particularly during the 1860s.

Carroll’s preferred photographic genre was portraiture, and he is noted for his careful poses and groupings. His favourite subjects were children—in particular girls, whom he photographed regularly, sometimes in costume and sometimes naked. Many questions and concerns have been raised regarding these photographs.

Iago, Julia Margaret Cameron, 1867.
Julia Margaret Cameron, Science Museum Group collection

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879) was one of the most influential and creative photographers of the 19th century, and is a seminal figure in the history of photography. She is known for her enigmatic, often allegorical, portraits made using atmospheric lighting, long exposure times and soft focus techniques.

Cameron favoured literary, historical and religious themes. Her negatives were made on large glass plates. Exposure times were long, and the resulting images have a romantic and spiritual quality. She often aimed to portray innocence, piety and wisdom through her photographs, or to depict figures and scenes from religion or literature. Cameron’s unconventional portraits usually featured her household staff, friends and family members, although she also made many distinctive portraits of prominent figures in the arts and sciences including Sir John Herschel, Charles Darwin and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. This photograph of Angelo Colarossi, a professional model hired by Cameron, makes a direct reference to literature, Iago being a character in Shakespeare’s Othello.

Cameron took up photography at the age of 48, having been given a camera by her daughter as a present. For the next eleven years, photography dominated her life. She used it as both a creative and a money-making tool—she was a shrewd businesswoman who worked hard to market her work. Today, her images are recognised as having outstanding artistic value and are credited with having had a huge impact on the development of modern photography.

Close No. 46 Saltmarket, from ‘Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow’, Thomas Annan, 1868–1871
© Science Museum Group collection

Thomas Annan (1829–1887) is best known for his photographs of Glasgow’s slums. His striking and often moving images, produced between 1868 and 1871, were made at the request of the City of Glasgow council, who commissioned Annan to make a record of the housing conditions in the old town prior to their demolition as part of an urban improvement scheme.

Widely regarded as the first photographs of inner city slums, Annan’s photographs were indicative of a growing public concern for the poor and dispossessed in society.

Recognition of the need for reform to help tackle the disease and ill health caused by overcrowding and insanitary living conditions in the cities was increasing, although it would not be properly addressed until the Public Health Act of 1875.

Camera technology was also improving quickly. However, while taking photographs in narrow and very badly lit sites such as Glasgow’s Old Closes was finally possible, exposure times remained lengthy. Some degree of staging is evident in Annan’s photographs, as is blurring, created by the movement of some of his subjects.

Closes were enclosed yards, accessed by long narrow lanes and often surrounded by tenements. In the background of this photograph stands a large tenement block, home to perhaps hundreds of people, with no running water or indoor sanitation. These damp, dirty, crime and disease-ridden blocks became infamous for their dreadful conditions and were considered to be among the worst slums in Britain. Several groups of children have been posed for this photograph. Annan, a Victorian gentleman photographer toting cumbersome equipment, would have been a peculiar visitor to the close and the object of the children’s curiosity. In this evocative image he demonstrates his skill with light and composition, balancing the scale of the foreboding tenement with groups of its young inhabitants and other foreground details.

The Horse in Motion, Eadweard Muybridge, 1878.
Eadweard Muybridge, Science Museum Group collection

Originally acknowledged for his series of large photographs of Yosemite Valley, Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) is now much better known for his motion studies of people and animals. In 1872 Muybridge was commissioned by the American politician, railroad tycoon and racehorse owner Leland Stanford to photograph a horse in motion. Stanford aimed to resolve the question of the exact position of a horse’s legs during a gallop, and, specifically, whether all four hooves were off the ground at the same time.

Muybridge developed a shutter mechanism which could achieve a speed of 1/500th of a second. Working with a battery of between 12 and 24 automatically-triggered cameras, Muybridge captured a series of split-second photographs of the horse as it passed in front of each lens. By 1877 Muybridge had answered Stanford’s question by producing a photograph of a galloping airborne horse.

From 1884 to 1887 Muybridge continued his studies, this time working with the University of Pennsylvania and a local zoo, where he used his technique to photograph both animals and human beings in motion. The results of his studies—totalling 100,000 images presented as 781 plates—were published in 1887 in the book Animal Locomotion, a landmark in the history of photography.

The Wool Exchange, Bradford, Francis Frith, 1895.
Francis Frith, Science Museum Group collection

Francis Frith (1822–1898) was a Victorian topographical photographer who ran a large photographic business. He specialised in producing photographic prints of British beauty spots and other tourist views including landmark buildings, as shown in this example. Frith set up his business in 1860. By the time of his death in 1898 he had opened branches all over the world.

Interest in topographic photographs grew in line with other developments that characterised the Victorian age, particularly travel and the growth of the railways. In addition, new legislation introduced mandatory holidays for working people for the first time, enabling them to vacation at the coast or in the country. Set against the background of imperial expansion, this growth in tourism, coupled with the emergence of the new middle class, prompted a powerful new desire for knowledge—to see new things and experience more of the world.

This photograph shows one of Victorian Bradford’s most significant buildings, the Wool Exchange. Now a Grade 1 listed building, it was important not only for its impressive Gothic Revival architecture but also for the crucial contribution it made to maintaining the city’s prosperity in its role as the centre of the wool industry.


Ellis Island Italian Madonna, Lewis Hine, 1905.
Lewis Hine, Science Museum Group collection

Lewis Hine (1874–1940) was a seminal American photographer, best remembered for the contribution he made to the reform of American child labour laws. He is also known for the work he undertook on behalf of the National Child Labour Committee, which aimed to help protect children from exploitation and danger in the workplace. Originally trained as a sociologist, Hine’s first photographic project documented European immigrants as they arrived at Ellis Island, New York. Hine always imbued his subjects with dignity, communicating a sense of the immigrants’ individuality and challenging the prejudice they faced.

Hine is regarded as an important early social documentary photographer. His work crosses genre distinctions, operating effectively as both impactful documentary and dignified portraiture. Hine’s twin requirements for his photographs ensure that his work operates in a wide range of social and cultural contexts, and remains an effective representation of the human condition.

This iconic and evocative image portrays the uncertainty of arriving in a strange land, and a mother’s need to ensure the safety of her child. These two people were among the hundreds to arrive at Ellis Island that day, who in turn were among the thousands that arrived in the early years of the new century, looking for a better life in a new country. Hine’s determination to depict their individualism is nonetheless emphatic.

The Steerage, Alfred Stieglitz, 1907.
Alfred Stieglitz, Science Museum Group Collection

Hine’s countryman Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) played a major part in developing a new, modern aesthetic for photography in the early 1900s. Initially involved in Pictorialism, a late 19th century movement which promoted photography as an art form, Stieglitz later became a key player in the development of the modern art movement, which profoundly affected the practise of photography in both Europe and the US.

Stieglitz founded and edited the influential photography magazine Camera Work from 1902–17 and founded the Little Galleries of Photo-Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York. Stieglitz also later established another gallery in the same premises, known simply as ’291’.

This photograph, The Steerage, was a turning point for Stieglitz in his move towards a modern aesthetic. His work started to become more closely aligned with photography’s inherent qualities: sharp focus, good contrast and full range of tones became important to him, and replaced the fuzzy lines and dappled surfaces favoured by the Pictorialists. This change of emphasis became known as ‘straight photography’.

Modernists depicted the everyday symbols of modern life: machines, urbanisation and the city. Modern concerns such as line, shape and tone became important. The Steerage, with its striking graphic of the gangplank cutting the composition in two, shows a society which is economically divided—those who can afford to be accommodated on deck, and those who have to settle for the steerage below.

Gloria Swanson (lace), Edward Steichen, 1924.
Edward Steichen, Science Museum Group collection

Edward Steichen (1879–1973) was born in Luxembourg in 1879. His family emigrated to America while he was still a baby, and Steichen became a naturalised US citizen at the turn of the century. A successful and diverse photographer, Steichen worked for various influential publications including Vogue and Vanity Fair, as well as the Photographic Division of the US Expeditionary Forces and the Naval Photographic Institute, both of which he directed during the First World War.

Steichen is known in particular for his collaboration with Alfred Stieglitz at the 291 Gallery, his founder-membership of the Photo-Secessionist movement, and his directorship of the Photographic Department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1955, at MoMA, Steichen organised the exhibition The Family of Man, now regarded as one of the most important exhibitions in photography’s history. 

Early in his career Steichen was associated with pictorialism and its soft focus style, although he gradually abandoned this in favour of ‘straight’ photography. Straight photography was aligned with modernism, which favoured clean lines, clear compositions and an overall sense of design and was gaining ground at the time, particularly in Europe.

This glamorous photograph, taken by Steichen in 1924, is one of a collection of celebrity portraits commissioned by Vanity Fair in the 1920s. At once chic and elegant, Swanson boldly gazes at the viewer. Her power is accentuated by the directness of Steichen’s portrait and his use of the lace’s pattern to frame her lips and chin.

Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, Dorothea Lange, 1936.
Dorothea Lange, Science Museum Group collection

Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) did much to define the course of documentary photography in the 20th century. Along with Walker Evans, Lange worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during the Great Depression in 1930s America. The FSA was established to help combat rural poverty, and the photographs Lange and Evans produced helped to bring the plight of poor and dispossessed farm workers and their families to public attention. Lange’s photograph Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California is the quintessential image from the period, and an icon of the era.

The tightly-composed, highly-concentrated composition is a powerful and empathic portrayal of the human tragedy brought about by the economic collapse. It has become one of the most reproduced images in the history of photography, its emotional impact arising from a universal understanding of the parent and child relationship, and the commonality of experience between human beings.

Townswomen Dressed for Market, Humphrey Spender, c.1937
Humphrey Spender, Science Museum Group collection

Humphrey Spender (1910–2005) was a British photographer who worked for Picture Post magazine and the Daily Mirror during the 1930s. Working under the name ‘Lensman’, Spender also worked for the Mass-Observation team from 1937 onwards. Helped in part by the development of new, smaller cameras, Spender became famous for his ability to maintain a low profile, and photograph scenes with minimal disruption.

Mass-Observation was an anthropological project, founded in 1937, which set out to study the lives of the people in the town of Bolton, Lancashire. Known as the ‘Worktown Project’, a team of paid investigators went into a variety of public situations—meetings, religious services, sporting and leisure activities, in the street and at work—and recorded people’s behaviour and conversation in as much detail as possible. The material they produced is a varied documentary account of life in Britain. Mass-Observation continued until the 1950s and has since been awarded ‘Designated’ status by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, in recognition of its outstanding national and international importance.

Dessau, Germany, Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1945.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Science Museum Group collection

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004) is a well-known figure in the history of photography, renowned for his photographs of French society and his distinctive ‘street style’ approach to documentary. He was also a co-founder of the prestigious photographic agency Magnum Photos. Cartier-Bresson recorded many of the ‘little moments’ in everyday life, often capturing subjects absorbed in activity, however minimal or idiosyncratic that action may have been.

His fascination with society and close observation techniques helped him to identify the ‘decisive moment’ in order to create meaningful glimpses of society. The ‘decisive moment’ refers to the point at which action and aesthetic blend to create the most impactful and visually effective representation of a scene.

Cartier-Bresson took this photograph in 1945 at a transit camp in Dessau, Germany. Transit camps were used to temporarily house refugees, political prisoners and prisoners of war shortly after liberation by the Allies. This image records the moment at which a Gestapo informer is recognised and exposed by a young Belgian woman.

Carmen Face Massage, Horst P. Horst, 1946
Horst P. Horst, Science Museum Group collection

Horst P. Horst (1906–1999) blazed the trail that 20th century fashion photographers followed. Mostly remembered for his work with Vogue during the 1930s and 40s, Horst’s career spanned sixty years. His name became synonymous with dramatic lighting, classical styling, elegance and romance. He is regarded as a master of light and shadow and is noted for his bold, experimental approach.

Horst began his association with Vogue in 1931, when his first photograph was published in the French edition. In the same year he met Cecil Beaton, another influential fashion photographer. In 1932 he began photographing celebrities, which further established his work and reputation.

Sometimes abstract, Horst’s modernist compositions represented a major development in fashion photography. His surrealist influences and interest in classical imagery and poses are evident in this photograph. 

The Wrestlers, Kordofan, Sudan, George Rodger, 1949.
George Rodger, Science Museum Group collection

British photojourmalist George Rodger (1908–1995) is known primarily for his shocking photographs of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and for his role in the establishment of the influential agency Magnum Photos.

Rodger is also recognised for the photographs he took in Africa in the years immediately after the Second World War. This photograph of two wrestlers was taken in the Nuba Mountains in Kordofan, central Sudan, while Rodger was working for National Geographic magazine.

In 1949 Rodger produced a large and unique documentary project, of which this image is a part. After a difficult journey to the remote, hard-to-find Nuba, he lived among the tribespeople for six weeks, photographing their daily lives, rituals and routines. The project proved controversial: Rodger’s photographs ultimately brought the tribespeople unwelcome attention that eventually destroyed their traditional way of life.

Nonetheless, the photographs themselves preserve the dignity of the tribesmen and avoid any recourse to sensationalism or voyeurism. Placing himself as an observer rather than an interpreter, Rodger produced a sensitive portrait of the tribe. This image was included in Edward Steichen’s 1955 MoMA exhibition The Family of Man.


Beachy Head Tripper Boat, Tony Ray-Jones, 1967.
Tony Ray-Jones, Science Museum Group collection

British photographer Tony Ray-Jones (1941–1972) is best known for his project A Day Off, which portrays the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the English way of life. His photographs are imbued with warmth and humour, catching his subjects relaxed and off-guard.

Ray-Jones’ work sits within a larger tradition of photographs of Britons at leisure, starting with Sir Benjamin Stone in the 19th century and later including Paul Martin and Homer Sykes among others. His unique compositions have in turn influenced a later generation of photographers that most notably includes Chris Killip and Martin Parr.

Tony Ray-Jones was born in 1941 and spent his childhood in London. After an initial tenure at the London School of Printing, he moved to America to study photography at Yale University. At Yale he found that photography was taken seriously as an art form and as a tool for personal artistic expression. In America he met and took inspiration from a range of influential practitioners including designer Alexey Brodovitch and photographers Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand. They introduced him to the then-new form of ‘street’ photography, which had a profound effect on his practise. On his return to the UK, Ray-Jones began using a similar approach to document the English at their leisure, and developed a particular interest in the English seaside.

He returned to the United States in 1971 to teach photography but was diagnosed with leukaemia shortly after his arrival. Tragically, Ray-Jones died in 1972 at the age of 31.

Jack of Diamonds playing card hit by a .30 calibre bullet, Harold Edgerton, 1970
Dr Harold (Eugene) Edgerton, © Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Science Museum Group collection

Dr Harold Edgerton (1903–1990) is famous for his split-second photographs, which reveal actions that are too fast for the human eye to see. 

Edgerton was the first photographer to use stroboscopic lighting to capture rapid movement. He became famous for his dramatic photographs of falling milk drops and speeding bullets. He found that the stroboscope could illuminate a subject through repeated and rapid bursts of light. His photographs presented views of high-speed motion for the first time and became popular with the public.

Bradford, Don McCullin, 1970s.
© Don McCullin/Contact/nbpictures, Science Museum Group collection

Don McCullin (1935–) is a British photojournalist with an international reputation for hard-hitting photographs taken in war zones and other areas of conflict. From 1966 to 1984 he worked with the Sunday Times Magazine and covered various nationally and internationally important events, including the Vietnam War, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the African HIV/AIDS epidemic.

McCullin is also known for his compassionate and powerful photographs of unemployed and impoverished members of British society. These photographs, taken over a 50-year period, bear witness to McCullin’s anger at a system in which compels some people to live in acute poverty and deprivation. An exhibition of McCullin’s work from Britain, drawing from his books Homecoming (1979) and In England (2007), was shown at this museum in summer 2009. Also titled In England, the exhibition contained many images taken in Bradford in the 1970s. Shocked by the hardships and distress he found in the city, McCullin produced a series of images which still resonate today. This photograph, simply titled Bradford, is a testament to the longevity of the social and racial troubles which the city still endures.

Living and working in Somerset, McCullin now concentrates on landscape photography.

Youth on Wall, Jarrow, Tyneside, Chris Killip, 1976.
Chris Killip, Science Museum Group collection

Chris Killip (1946–) is known for his powerful and moving black and white photographs, which chronicle industrial decline in the north-east of England in the late 1970s and 1980s.

The series from which this photograph is drawn was published in the book In Flagrante (1988). In Flagrante has been described as one of the most important photography books of the 1980s, on account of the impactful and resonant nature of the photographs. It is generally regarded as an important record of life in the north-east of England during the Thatcher years. Characterised by high levels of unemployment brought on by policies of deindustrialisation, the period was a dramatic era in social history. An acute sense of melancholy pervades Killip’s photographs: they are careful personal observations rather than calls to action. Killip’s work helped to establish the now-familiar tradition of documentary photography located in the context of fine art.

Heptonstall backlit, Yorkshire, Fay Godwin, 1978.
Fay Godwin, Science Museum Group collection

Fay Godwin (1931–2005) is regarded as one of Britain’s finest landscape photographers. She is known for her black and white photographs, which reflect the diverse and changing nature of the British landscape. She possessed a special ability to portray the essential characteristics of land, sea and sky. Her work often draws attention to the detrimental effect that past and present generations have had on the natural environment, which she increasingly began to portray as polluted and inaccessible as her work progressed.

Sensitive, subtly political and unsentimental, her work was published in several books, the most influential of which was Land (1985). Land featured photographs taken over a ten-year period, many of which were taken while Godwin was in receipt of a major Arts Council grant that she had been awarded in 1978.

In 1987 Godwin was awarded the Bradford Fellowship, hosted jointly by this museum, Bradford College and the University of Bradford. During the term of her fellowship, Godwin’s experiments with colour photography culminated in the exhibition Bradford in Colour

A subsequent book, Our Forbidden Land, was published in 1990. In it, Godwin focused on the environmental damage caused by road builders, developers, the forestry industry and the Ministry of Defence.

This photograph, Heptonstall backlit, Yorkshire 1978, illustrates her masterful use of light and shade and striking compositional ability. This, along with a full range of mid-tones, creates an evocative scene and emphasises the enormity of the Yorkshire landscape.

Agecroft Power Station, Salford, John Davies, 1983.
John Davies, Science Museum Group collection

John Davies (1949–) is a prolific, internationally recognised photographer, famous for his striking black and white images of both urban and rural landscapes.

Because he records the effects of industrialisation on the landscape, Davies has often been described as a political photographer. Incongruous elements are often present in his work: industrial buildings in rural settings or ancient buildings flanked by flyovers. These contrasts emphasise the effects of development and how these structures are put to different uses over time. In this photograph, the landscape is dominated by the colliery and its close neighbour the power station, whose four huge cooling towers occupy the middle distance. Behind the towers, pylons stand as evidence of the transition from coal to electricity.

Taken during the Thatcher era, only a year before Agecroft miners participated in the National Union of Mineworkers strike in 1984–85, this photograph shows the effect of the industry on the landscape. In the foreground are typical Sunday league football pitches, and adjacent is detritus—abandoned cars and other litter. A tethered horse completes the melancholic scene.

Woman in Headscarf, DHSS Waiting Room, Bristol from the series ‘Beyond Caring’, Paul Graham, 1984.
© Paul Graham, Science Museum Group collection

Paul Graham (1956–) is best known for his groundbreaking colour documentary work in the 1980s. His series Beyond Caring, from which this image is drawn, depicts the offices of the Department of Health and Social Security and was published as a book in 1985. The great theme of the decade, particularly in the north of England, was poverty and deindustrialisation. The dismantling of the mining industry and resultant strikes was the dominant story.

Graham was the first person to make significant use of colour in social documentary photography. Documentary photography had been dominated by black and white, with colour mainly confined to advertising and domestic work. Graham’s use of colour as a tool for personal expression in social documentary photography transformed British photography and remains influential today.

From ‘The Last Resort’, Martin Parr, 1985.
Martin Parr, Science Museum Group collection

British photographer Martin Parr (1952–) is one of the most significant artists in the modern history of photography. His extensive body of work has brought him fame and made a deep impression on those who have followed in his wake. Parr is famous for his unorthodox, often humorous style and his interest in mass tourism, consumerism and globalisation. His work is frequently perceived as being critical of England and the English and as such is often received with ambivalence, regardless of its impact on the medium and obvious quality,

A member of Magnum Photos, Parr works with brash colour to portray a world apparently full of vulgarity and wastefulness. His first large-scale project was The Last Resort, a series of photographs of the run-down seaside resort of New Brighton on the Wirral. Published as a book in 1986 and exhibited widely, The Last Resort became notorious for its shocking, garishly colourful portrayal of modern society.

The Last Resort is an uncompromising project that turned an unforgiving spotlight on Thatcher’s Britain and prompted questions about the depth of the divides within British society. This photograph, drawn from the series, shows two small children with ice creams dribbling down their hands, faces and clothes. Their messy appearance implies careless and neglectful parenting, further emphasised by the way they’re positioned alone on the kerb.

Suzie Smoking, Nick Knight, 1988.
Nick Knight, Science Museum Group collection

Internationally celebrated British fashion photographer Nick Knight (1958–) is known for his challenges to conventional ideals of beauty and for his work on magazines including British and French Vogue, Dazed and Confused and i-D, He was also the picture editor of the latter title for ten years.

Knight has published several books of his photographs and been featured by prestigious institutions including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Saatchi Gallery, Tate Modern, The Photographers Gallery, the Hayward Gallery and the Natural History Museum. He has produced campaigns for prominent fashion houses including Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. In 2000 he set up the award-winning fashion website SHOWstudio.

This image, Suzie Smoking, 1988, was shot for the avant-garde Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto. Featuring the model Suzie Bick, the photograph was exhibited widely, most notably in the 1989 exhibition Out of Fashion at the Photographers Gallery, London.

From ‘Friendly Fire’, Anna Fox, 1989–1994.
Anna Fox, Science Museum Group collection

Anna Fox (1961–) came to prominence during the 1980s when she began producing colour photographs in a style that became known as subjective documentary. Influenced by the new colour work produced in the US in the 1970s and Britain in the 1980s, Fox’s first project Workstations: Office Life in London (1988) chronicled British office culture. Characterised by harsh flash and accompanied by satirical captions, this project was a critical look at the aggressive and competitive work politics of the 1980s and was produced in the context of other important documentarists from the period, including Paul Graham, Tom Hunter and Martin Parr.

Subsequent project Friendly Fire was undertaken from 1989 to 1994 and documented paintballing and other weekend war games. The photographs feature a variety of locations, some indoors and some outdoors. Again the images are characterised by harsh flash, which heightens the sense of irony in the work. Playing the role of war photographer, Fox satirises the motives of the participants as they attempt to foster team spirit through mock battle.

Untitled, Richard Billingham, 1995.
© Richard Billingham, Science Museum Group collection

Richard Billingham (1970–) was born in Birmingham. His breakthrough came following the publication of photographs he took of his family, who lived in a tower block in the city. The book Ray’s a Laugh (1996) depicted the chaotic lives of Billingham’s alcoholic father Ray, mother Liz and younger brother Jason.

The garishly-coloured, badly-focused photographs were shot using a cheap 35mm camera. They were made initially as studies for paintings while Billingham was studying fine art at the University of Sunderland. Reminiscent of family snapshots, the remarkably frank images depict a life of poverty but are tempered by moments of intimacy between Liz and Ray. In this photograph, which is at once humorous, desperate and cruel, Ray is seen throwing the family’s pet cat across the room.

Part photo-diary and part documentary, Ray’s a Laugh has received international acclaim and notoriety. It has been exhibited at many venues, including at this museum in 1996, and was part of the famous Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1997. Billingham won the prestigious Citibank Photography Prize in 1997 and was shortlisted for the Turner prize in 2001.

Untitled, Hannah Starkey, 1997.
Hannah Starkey, Science Museum Group collection, courtesy of Maureen Paley, London

Hannah Starkey (1971–) creates large, staged photographs which invite the viewer to speculate about the thoughts and intentions of their subjects. These enigmatic colour photographs act as dramas, often quiet and subtle, hinting at some unspoken occurrence, known only to the characters. The viewer is drawn in and encouraged to participate and hypothesise.

In Starkey’s large-scale tableaux, the subjects—usually women—are engaged in some mysterious scenario. They seem to suggest that we have stumbled across the scene by accident; the context and narrative remain elusive. 

In this photograph, the main character seems to have been caught unawares, mid-daydream, contemplating a moth which has come to rest on the large mirror. She appears to be in her own world, oblivious to the presence of another woman, who watches her with apparent and unexplained malevolence.


Kabul Road, Luc Delahaye, 2001.
Luc Delahaye, Science Museum Group collection

Luc Delahaye (1962–) is known primarily for his series of photographs History. Representing sites of war and their aftermath, History is a series of monumentally-sized panoramic photographs that use painterly conventions to present subject matter typically associated with photojournalism.

Created with a panoramic camera and reproduced on a grand scale, these precise, detailed images exude a formality and gravitas normally only associated with paintings. Part of their resonance results from their ability to provide a view of war that differs significantly from the usual images created by the mainstream media, as this image, Kabul Road, demonstrates.

From ‘Afghanistan: Chronotopia’, Simon Norfolk, 2001-02.
Simon Norfolk, Science Museum Group collection

Simon Norfolk (1963–) is also known for his large-scale colour photographs of the aftermath of wars. Ruined landscapes, buildings and local communities are typical themes, as Norfolk surveys the desolation left behind after conflict. This photograph is taken from one of his most important series, Afghanistan: Chronotopia, and shows a balloon seller standing in front of a former teahouse in Kabul.

The war in Afghanistan has left an unfamiliar landscape in its wake, with many residents living among ruined buildings. Norfolk produces beautiful and detailed images, often bathed in rich sunlight and sometimes including distant mountain ranges, which emphasise the scale and history of the land.

Romantic history painters of the 18th and 19th centuries are referenced in Simon Norfolk’s photographs, through the dramatic skies, the colours and the scale of the works. The ruined landscape has been aestheticised—perhaps a memorial to what has been destroyed.

Here, the shape of the building is emphasised by the camera’s low viewpoint, and its outline is almost silhouetted against the sky. The muted colour palette focuses attention on the balloons, which, in turn, become peculiar representations of mainstream popular culture.

Resources, “A Brief History of Photography and the Camera: Explore the Major Advances in the History of Photography.” By LIZ MASONER;, ” The History of Photography. ” By John Szarkoski;, “THE HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY IN PICTURES.”;