As some of you may know, November 18, 2011, marks Louis Daguerre’s 224th birthday. Louis Daguerre, of course, is the inventor of the daguerreotype process of photography. The daguerreotype was the first commercially successful photographic process in the world, so if you are a photographer or lover of photography, you have Mr. Daguerre to thank for refining and popularising this form of art and visual documentation.
In Daguerre’s time, cameras were big and bulky and had to be placed on a tripod for use. You had to plan your shoot, set up your camera and then take your picture. A lot of time and thought went into taking a photograph in those days (which is why there aren’t many action shots from that time period).
Street photography is a type of photography that lives for the candid, action shot, so practicing street photography with a daguerreotype camera would have been nearly impossible. For years, the possibility of this type of photography lay dormant. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that street photography started making a move, and it was able to make this move thanks to the portable camera.
The first portable camera was the Kodak Brownie box camera. The Brownie came with 100 pre-loaded exposures and was the first camera to use film instead of plates. Although, this camera was simple to use, it only had one shutter speed and a fixed-focus lens (not to mention it was still a little bulky). The production of the 35 mm Leica camera in 1925 was a true treat for all street photographers looking for a camera design that was easier to use and walk around with. Soon after the introduction of the 35 mm Leica, many more branded types of 33 mm camera began to spring up around the world including the Kodak’s Retina I.
Today, there are so many portable camera choices it is easy to take for granted the luxury of being able to take “snapshots” with a “point-and-shoot” camera that has “automatic” exposure control. Photography can sometimes be too easy. There are instant cameras, digital cameras, digital and film SLR cameras; we now even have cameras on our phones. With all these portable camera types, anyone can takes photos anywhere at any time.
For serious street photographers, though, I think it’s worth taking a moment to recognise the evolution of the camera and how it has directly impacted the possibility for this type of photography. It would be very difficult to capture candid, real moments in public places without being able to easily strap your camera across your chest and freely move from moment to moment. There would be no “shooting from the hip” and there would be no street photography as we know it today.
Lauren Phillips has been a professional event photographer for 16 years and also owns the site Photography Degrees
. She likes to write articles about everything photography.