Although it is not necessary to be an expert in photography to start collecting and supporting contemporary artists, it is important to understand that it is a very recent medium, originating from the echnological developments of the end of the 19th century, that had to go through many steps before being accepted as a Fine Arts practice.

Discover here the fascinating history of photography, that will celebrate its 180th anniversary in 2019...


The pinhole: Greek ancestor of the camera

We must go back to Antiquity to find the premises of photography, with a principle of "dark room" by Aristotle called "pinhole": a small hole dug in a black box acts as a photographic lens and brings back in its bottom an image of inverted shape, as in the eye.
Englishman Johannes Kepler perfected the process in the 17th century by adding lenses in front of the hole and gave his process a Latin name from optics: "camera obscura". The size of the camera in question can now be that of an entire room, but still no light must leak!


1826 : the first photography

In the 18th century, we know how to form the image at the bottom of the black box but we still do not know how to fix it there. After numerous experiments, French engineer Nicéphore Niepce placed, at the bottom of the camera obscura, a sensitive plate that can retain the image: using bitumen of Judée and... 10 hours of exposure, nothing less! This is the first photograph, taken in 1826 in Chalon-sur-Saône.


© Nicéphore Niepce,1826, Chalon-sur-Saône


Nicéphore Niepce & Louis Daguerre : the inventors of photography

In 1829, Nicéphore Niepce joined forces with Louis Daguerre, talented theater designer and inventor of the diorama (scenery animated by games of lights) to develop his research.

Louis Daguerre has the idea to fix the images by depositing phosphorescent powders at the bottom of his camera obscura. The image is only retained a few hours before disappearing, but the exposure time is reduced to only a few minutes. Here is the principle of the camera as we know it: the daguerreotype, which he developed in 1840!

daguerreotype studio

1839 : official date of the invention of photography

But it is François Arago, astronomer, physicist & politician, who, aware of the potential of the process, reveals it in 1839 to the Academy of Sciences. The French State buys the patent and places it in the public domain, thus offering it to the whole world!


1841 : birth of the multiple draw

The English are also very active: in 1841, William Henry Fox Talbot is behind of photographic printing principle by inventing the negative. Because the date of its discovery is very close to 1839 and is crucial in the development of photography, Talbot is often claimed by his English compatriots as the inventor of photography.

The first negative ©William Henry Fox Talbot

1903 : And there was colour

It is Louis Ducos, French artist and photographer who, in 1868, applies the trichromie to photography: 3 superimposed shots in the three primary colors. But it is brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière who perfected and developed it industrially: Autochrome, the first industrial technique of color photography, was patented in December 1903.

The first color photography ©Louis Ducos

Painters & photographers: the enemy brothers


At the beginning of the century, the industrial production mode of photography puts it in total contradiction with the artistic creation, artisanal by principle. Painters and photographers at best ignore each other, at worst fight each other, but none can deny the growing influence of this new medium on the artistic creation of the time!

The arrival of photography, which captures objective reality, has pushed painting towards Impressionism and its subjective interpretation of reality. Others, like Eugène Delacroix, far from considering it as a rival of painting, follow with interest its development and use it in their creative process.


Photography becomes a work of art: thank you Alfred


As early as 1910-20, photography tried to be accepted as Fine Art through pictorialism, centered on impressions more than the accuracy of the document.

Disparate initiatives were born in Europe until the American Alfred Stieglitz emerged as a leader, with an artistic interpretation of landscapes playing on the depth and effects of light.

Also an art dealer, he was one of the first personalities to organize exhibitions and launch magazines solely on the medium, raising photography as a work of art.

Photography exhibition at Galerie 291 by Alfred Stieglitz



1925 : the first Leica

It is known, the wars are periods of strong inventiveness and it is at the end of 1914-1918 war that little handy devices will free the imagination of the photographers, who try diving shots, against -living, side vision, close-ups ...

Photography has freed itself from its main disadvantage: the lack of transportability, and opens the way to artistic creation by its maneuverability!

Leica Model A, 1925


After the Great War: photography finds its Greats Masters

This new path in the artistic field culminated after the Great War, with several innovative and offbeat movements that brought out artists still recognized today as masters of photographic creation:

- the Dada movement, which, as opposed to the raging war, encourages creative freedom in all its forms and makes Raoul Haussmann one of the precursors of photo-editing.

- the famous German Bauhaus School, where photography is taught in the same way as other disciplines of art, with the constructivist Moholy-Nagy as a professor and principal theorist.

- the surrealism that drives Man Ray to realize a number of experimental shots all more famous than the others, where he explores solarization, inversion or superimposition, next to more utilitarian fashion or reports.

©László Moholy-Nagy

©Man Ray

After 1939-45: nothing more to prove

After the Second World War, the trend in the West is the lyrical representation of a universal man, with celebrities like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis ...

"Schools" are formed, especially in Germany: the school of Essen (1950-1963) which Otto Steinert will be the teacher, focuses on subjective photography and a personal interpretation of the image that can go up to abstraction; and the Dusseldorf School, on the contrary devoted to the objective photography of the Bernd and Hilla Becher, who will mark their time with a choice of particular artistic themes (factory catalogs, reservoirs) and a rigorous treatment of the black and white image. (lighting, framing, format).

The Düsseldorf school generates prestigious descendants like Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth ... who reached the top of the art market in the 1990s!

©Otto Steinert

©Bernd et Hilla Becher

©Andreas Gursky