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Brief History of Photography

Always a purpose, always a reason for a photograph. 

Starting with the photographers who captured the Great American West, its beauty and potential to engage the American imagination and that of a President. What resulted? Yellowstone National Park.


From age twelve until age ninety-nine, William Henry Jackson was involved on some level with photography. After a tour of duty in the Civil War, he headed West and eventually settled in Omaha, Nebraska, where he opened a portrait photography studio with his brother Edward. As Jackson explained, however, "Portrait photography never had any charms for me, so I sought my     from the house-tops, and finally from the hill-tops and about the surrounding country; the taste strengthening as my successes became greater in proportion to the failures." In 1870 he accompanied geologist Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden on an expedition across Wyoming, along the Green River, and eventually into the Yellowstone Lake area. Jackson's images were the first published photographs of Yellowstone. Partly on the strength of these photographs, the area became America's first national park in March 1872. 

On one of several independent expeditions that he headed, Jackson also became the first to photograph the prehistoric Native American dwellings in Mesa Verde, Colorado. He finally settled in Denver, Colorado, where he worked as a commercial landscape photographer and continued to publish his photographs as postcards.

There came a time in mid 19th century  NYC when a Danish born/American photographer wanted to change the wrongs of the evolving industrial world, including undrinkable water supplies and poor housing Jacob  Riis was one who used his newspaper, a crew of photographers and flash photography to promote social reform. One of his most famous books was How the Other Half Lives.


Born in Europe and having spent time painting in Paris and London, Steichen came to America and with Steiglitz and others helped establish the modern photography movement in America. He worked at Conde Nast for many years and brought beauty to magazines and advertising. He was director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art from 1947 to 1962, and was responsible for more than fifty shows, including The Family of Man in 1955, the most popular exhibition in the history of photography.


Starting with the WPA during the 1930's and then the rise of popular magazines, including LIFE, TIME, LOOK, Saturday Evening Post, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, People  and many others that required hundreds, if not thousands of images a week from American landscapes during the depression to war zones to Hollywood dressing rooms to Elvis, Woodstock, race riots, assassinations, Presidential elections and more. 


I think women like Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, and the talented portraitist Annie Leibovitz have paved the way for the kinds of imagery that is popular on social media. This is something I might want to study, but my gut feeling is that their out of the box thinking, seeing and feelings are often what people are attempting today when they represent themselves and their lives in still shots and video.



American photographer Cindy Sherman is known for her elaborately "disguised" self-portraits that focus on social role-playing and sexual stereotypes. Synopsis Cindy Sherman was born January 19, 1954, in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. In 1977, she began work on "Complete Untitled Film Stills," a series of 69 photographs and one of her best-known works; her black-and-white photographs challenged cultural stereotypes supported by the media. In the 1980s, Sherman used color film and large prints, and focused more on lighting and facial expression. She returned to ironic commentary in the 1990s, directing the dark comedy Office Killer in 1997. Three years later, in 2000, she released a series of photographs of women with exaagerated attributes—a representation of social role-playing and sexual stereotypes.

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So many more photographers.  Who can we add??   Let me know!!