WatsonPhotography.ca | Evolution of the Snapshot

Evolution of the Snapshot

March 18, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Harbor Commission As you move around the photographic community and traverse the public landscape you see an astonishing amount of people using smartphones for snapshots and selfies. The proliferation of people taking snapshots is exploding. Or is it? Yes, statistically it is increasing as is all forms of digital artifacts from our modern age.

The proliferation of snapshots in the general public raises the visibility of photography. Too many in the photographic community look with disdain at smart phone photographers and causal snapshot takers. This disdain often extends to outright snobbery and elitism against snapshots. Is there justification for these viewpoints towards snapshots or is this simply an issue of illumination.

I think the main reason for the disdain and snobbery towards smart phone photographers and the causal snapshot taker is just ignorance about photographic history.

The use of cameras to take snapshots goes back to the introduction of the Kodak #1 camera in 1888. Invented and marketed by George Eastman. The Kodak # 1 was a simple box camera that came pre-loaded with a 100-exposure roll of film. After the roll was exposed, the camera was sent back to the factory in Rochester, New York.  The film was processed and returned to the customer with the prints and a fresh roll of film installed in the camera.


Technical advances by the introduction of the Kodak # 1 were surpassed by George Eastman's skill in his marketing strategy. By simplifying photography and providing a 

Beached service for the consumer, he made photography accessible to the public.  The marketing slogan for this camera was “You press the button, we do the rest." It is very easy to draw parallels between the marketing magic of George Eastman with that of Apple Corp. when they introduced the first iPhone to the market.

After the introduction of the Kodak # 1; photography for the masses increased exponentially. Snapshot photography became a national craze and ten years later in 1898 over 1.5 million roll-film cameras were in the hands of the public to take snapshots.

The early use of taking snapshots was meant to record important events in life. Typically this would entail snapshots of weddings, graduations, birthdays, travels and family get-togethers and to capture the introduction of changes to lifestyle with the introduction of pets, cars, and houses and the rearing of children.

Snapshots were often placed into family albums and were periodically added to. Family albums were often arranged by historical or narrative sequences that painted a vivid history of family life. Even though 100 years of passed the only difference in the curation of snapshots is in the display medium. Instead of family photo albums; snapshots are now arranged in web galleries of posted for display on social media.

The focus on snapshots has continued and evolved with each successive introduction in photographic technology over the past 125 years. The list below shows the evolution of camera technology used by the public in taking snapshots. I think George Eastman would be proud of the continuing tradition of using snapshots to capture the moments in our lives.

1.       Kodak # 1

2.       Kodak Brownie

3.       Folding camera

4.       35 mm rangefinder

5.       Kodak 126 film and cameras

6.       Kodak 110 cameras

7.       Polaroid

8.       Point and shoot film cameras

9.       Digital point and shoot

10.   Smart phone

A future Part two article will discuss workflow techniques for smartphones. Stay tuned.


Images courtesy of Watsonphotography.ca and Cistrone Photography. Images captures on Apple and Blackberry smart phones.

Watsonphotography.ca creates unique images of fashion, models, travel, people and racing sports by the Toronto based photographer Peter Watson.


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