Photographic film and social change

While in Vienna I saw the surprising and nostalgic sight of two tourists helping each other to change a role of film in their camera. The development of film has been superseeded by digital cameras which themselves are losing to mobile phone cameras. Mobile phone cameras are digital cameras but the camera as an artefact is slowly disappearing. Another thing that happened in Vienna was that I browsed a collegues photographs of the art she had seen over the last year all stored in her mobile phone – no need for a camera here.

The demise of photographic film is a fascinating story beginning way back in 1876 when Hurter and Driffield experimetnted with light sensitivity of film. Naturally early photography did not use rolls of film which I have pangs of nostalgia for but the early daguerreotypes used tricky glass plates consisting of polished silver surfaces coated silver halide particles deposited by iodine vapor (wikipedia).

Eastman Kodak changed all this in 1885 with the first flexible photographic film. This breakthrough made cameras cheaper, easier to use, lighter to carry and the era of snapshot photography was launched. Now the photographer could easily carry a camera and use it on people who did not have to be standing still. The privacy implications launched a major discussion into the nature of privacy in relation to technology. The seminal article in the privacy field is The Right to Privacy by Warren and Brandeis (1890), is still widely quoted.

The move from the heavy and complex equipment to the small, cheap and portable devices show how changes in base technology affect social change. The ubiquitous holiday snaps are a product of these developments. Now that this phase is going to its grave, being overtaken by digital photography, we see new developments. More photographs are being taken and (maybe) saved but there also seems to be an issue of accessibility and use.

If the pictures are not online do we ever look at them?

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