Francesca Woodman, ‘Space², Providence, Rhode Island’ 1976
Francesca Woodman
Space², Providence, Rhode Island 1976
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
© and courtesy Charles Woodman / Estate of Francesca Woodman and DACS, 2021

A photograph can be either a positive or negative image. Most photographs are created using a camera, which uses a lens to focus an object’s visible wavelengths (the light reflected or emitted from it) into a reproduction on a light-sensitive surface of what the human eye would see.

The word photograph was coined in 1839 by Sir John Herschel and is based on the Greek word ‘phos’, meaning ‘light’, and ‘graphê’, meaning ‘drawing’ – so ‘drawing with light.

Types of photography: Non-digital vs. digital

Non-digital photographs are produced using a two-step chemical process: light-sensitive film captures a negative image (colors and lights/darks are inverted) from which a positive image can be made by transferring the negative onto photographic paper (printing).

The advent of digital photography has led to the rise of digital prints. These prints are created from stored graphic formats such as JPEG, TIFF, and RAW. These can then be printed out using printers including inkjet printers, dye-sublimation printer, laser printers, and thermal printers. Inkjet prints are sometimes called ‘giclée’ prints.

Photography through time

Eadweard Muybridge
Jumping over boy's back (leap-frog). Plate 169 1887
© Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Nineteenth century: Eadweard Muybridge
Born in 1830 – around the same time that photography was invented – Muybridge was one of the early pioneers of photography. Tate’s 2010 Muybridge exhibition explored his important contribution to the development of photography.

Mid twentieth century: William Eggleston
Often described as the godfather of colour photography, and known for his rich and complex images of the American South, William Eggleston is largely credited with establishing the acceptance of colour in fine art photography.

Chris Killip, ‘North Shield Housing Estate on May 5 1981. The day Bobby Sands’ death was announced.’ 1981, printed 2012–13
Chris Killip
North Shield Housing Estate on May 5 1981. The day Bobby Sands’ death was announced. 1981, printed 2012–13
© Chris Killip

Late twentieth century: Chris Killip
Photography changed radically as it became more politically conscious and socially engaged. Chris Killip was at the forefront of a generation of photographers interested in documenting working-class communities in the 1970s and 1980s.

Adam Broomberg, Oliver Chanarin, ‘Political 1 sheet 19’ 2010
Adam Broomberg, Oliver Chanarin
Political 1 sheet 19 2010
© Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin

Twenty-first century: Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
From the early 1990s onward, photography has diversified as photographers have found the freedom to experiment. Contemporary photography is often enigmatic with photographers collecting and making fictions from facts or sometimes facts from fictions. Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin explore the turbulence of the near past, as revealed in archival materials.