Modern Developments


Camera technology has changed at a rapid pace. Barely three generations after Edwin Land invented the instant camera in 1947, smartphone companies began putting cameras (sometimes more than one!) in their phones. Read this text to learn more about these technological developments.

In 1947 Edwin Land invented the instant camera, capable of taking and developing a photograph, followed by the popular SX-70 instant camera in 1972. The SX-70 produced a three-inch-square format positive image that developed in front of your eyes. The beauty of instant development for the artist was that the film emulsion stayed malleable and able to manipulate during the two or three minutes it took for the image to appear.

The artist Lucas Samaras used this manipulation technique to produce some of the most imaginative and visually perplexing images in a series he called photo-transformations. Using himself as a subject, Samaras explores ideas of self-identity, emotional states, and the altered reality he creates on film.

Polaroid SX-70 Instant Camera

Polaroid SX-70 Instant Camera

Digital cameras appeared on the market in the mid-1980s. They allow the capture and storage of images through electronic means (the charge-coupled device) instead of photographic film. This new medium created big advantages over the film camera: the digital camera produces an image instantly, stores many images on a memory card in the camera, and the images can be downloaded to a computer, where they can be further manipulated by editing software and sent anywhere through cyberspace. This eliminated the time and cost involved in film development and created another revolution in how we access visual information.

Digital images started to replace those made with film while still adhering to traditional ideas of design and composition. The following image is a photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge that has been retouched to create light effects traditionally used in paintings. The photograph also uses many of the artistic elements and principles you learned about in Unit 3 in its composition.

Golden Gate Bridge Retouched

David Ball, Golden Gate Bridge Retouched.

In addition, digital cameras and editing software allow artists to explore the notion of staged reality: not just recording what they see but creating a new visual reality for the viewer. Sandy Skogland creates and photographs elaborate tableaus inhabited by animals and humans, often in cornered, theatrical spaces. In a series of images titled True Fiction Two, she uses the digital process – and the irony in the title to build fantastically colored, dream-like images of decidedly mundane places. By straddling both installation and digital imaging, Skoglund blurs the line between the real and the imagined in art.

The photographs of Jeff Wall are similar in content – a blend of the staged and the real – but present themselves in a straightforward style the artist terms as "near documentary."

Review this timeline for more information on the major moments in photographic history.

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Source: Christopher Gildow,
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Last modified: Wednesday, February 14, 2024, 4:04 PM