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How would today’s world and our lives be different if photography had not been invented?

Updated on November 1, 2009

Photography, from the minute it was invented, has had an immense impact on the world we live in. Not only has it made it possible for humans to record and document images forever but it has also changed our perception of the world, the creatures in it and the events that come and go with life. Photography has made history. It is the world’s most popular hobby, with almost everyone owning some kind of camera. We use it to document family moments, capture phenomena, and reveal beauty and even survey celebrities. It has completely transformed and created the media as we know it now, because photography was invented we now have television and films.

When it was invented in the 1830’s, it made capturing the moment possible. Before, this time the only way to see an event after it had happened was by looking at a painting or drawing. Although, the first photograph took 8 hours to take, progress and developments in this field took the world by storm. Now it is uncommon for anyone not to own a mobile phone with an in-built camera and/or a digital camera/recording system. The most noticeable difference if photography had not been invented on the world today would be the lack of immediacy that the modern technology gives us. We simply pull out our cameras or phones and can snap away, meaning that the images we record could be on the internet in the matter of seconds. Without this, many communication networks would not exist. Look at Iran, the government put restrictions on all journalists’ movements and closed down TV stations that they couldn’t control, but, thanks to the technology we possess, people where able to get there images within seconds onto YouTube, Flickr and Photobucket to let the world know what was happening. Photographs make the unbelievable undeniable.

For every major moment in modern history, photographs have illustrated and astounded news which otherwise we could not possibly believe. When man walked on the moon, a camera was there. When Hitler was gaining the power to order the massacring of millions of innocent people, a camera was there. When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and then released, a camera was there. These photos can speak a million words and hit home, both emotionally and physically more so than any other form of communication. Photographs can take your breath away, change you beliefs and even play tricks with your senses. Some photographs have changed our perception of events. A famous photograph changed the worlds view on the Vietnam War. The photo of the naked girl running for her life made people stand up and say “no this is wrong, we have to do something” This was something protests and speeches were unable to achieve. Photography in this case, changed the course of action and this is not the only example. It changed opinions on a world level and if photography had not been invented, what would have happened? Photography allows people to see things that are indescribable. Telling someone that a war is devastating does not get that person to understand exactly how it is devastating. During the American Civil War and the World Wars, civilians and governments were shocked by photographs of gruesome battles and tragic bloodshed. It showed the reality of the world we live in, before this they had only heard stories. When the photographs illustrated fields upon fields of corpses, the blood covered soldiers and their guns, the ideas of war were changed dramatically. Hearing of suffering and death and actually seeing it are two completely different concepts. When the atomic bomb went off in Japan, and the mushroom cloud was rising out of the dust and debris, a camera captured it and as a result even the next generation can recognise what happened on that day. Show someone a picture of the cloud and even if they cannot give you the details of what happened, they will be able to tell you that it was the exploding of the atomic bomb.

“Photographs cannot lie,” this phrase was coined when photography was first invented because photographs were seen as honest representations of a scene, unlike paintings which were subjective to memory and attitude to a situation. Painters could lie, a camera, they said, could not. They were wrong. Photographs at the very beginning were infallible records of the happenings that the camera was pointing at. This quickly changed, of course. Photography had given people a way to lie through imagery, something that had never before been so realistic and believable. In 1917, the Cottingly Fairies were “discovered” through five photographs taken by two young girls. The girls claimed 4 of the photographs were simply cardboard cut outs held up with hairpins. The photographs sparked great debates as many people believed photographs of that quality could not be have been faked. Nowadays, finding a photograph in the media that has not been altered with software such as Photoshop is like finding a needle in a haystack. A recent example of this was when the Iraqi photographs of torture came to light. These were proven to be fakes but for many months it was believed that the photographs were real. In this case jobs and governments were on the line.


With fame and fortune being as it is, photography has aided people to manipulate public opinion by lying through the photographs they use. But, had photography not been invented, the media as we now it now, our high streets and our social make-up would be drastically different. On television we have 20 minutes of advertising commercials in every one hour length programme. Without photography neither of these would exist. Companies don’t just advertise their products, by using photographs and images, they market us a way of life. Without photography the celebrities, models and sports stars used in the adverts, would not have such a successful career. The paparazzi, photojournalism and the media have made them famous. Photographs create and reinforce fame and glamour. They allow us to get up close and personal with people we would otherwise not know by image alone. This technique is not new. Politicians have been taking advantage of the mass media, thanks to photography, for years whilst also exploiting new technology. Their will be very few people with access to the media who couldn’t tell you who Barack Obama or Picasso, Marilyn Monroe or even David Beckham is.

It’s hard to think of any activity in our lives that does not in some way benefit or capitalise from the use of photography. This is especially true in the arts. If photography had not been invented today we would be lacking a beautiful form of art and creativity. In the click of a button a masterpiece can be created. For many artists, photography has become central to their art. It allows for experimentation without destroying the beauty you had spent hours creating. You can alter a photo while still keeping the original. This connivance is outstanding and can only aid artistic progression. Photography allows us to be expressive in a way that is very different to traditional art forms. If photography had not been invented then many of the techniques we have developed as a result would not exist. If photography had been invented we simply would not even be able to replicate masterpieces without substantial difficulty. The beauty we discovered through magnifying things under a microscope would not have happened with the aid of photography. The Wolffia Angusta is the world’s smallest flower. Similar to the size of a gain of sand when not in blown a dozen would easily fit on the head of a pin and two plants in full bloom would fit inside a small print “o.” Who would we possibly believe that without an accompanying photograph to prove the point?

As human beings we fundamentally remember images, we think in pictures and can even learn from pictures faster than we can with words. They stimulate the mind and extend the senses beyond that of any word story could. Whether you’re a parent doing the weekly shopping or a card counter in a casino the best way to remember something is to visualise a picture of something. Education has taken advantage of photography for this reason, very view textbooks will not have pictures in it to illustrate the points that it is making.

Photography creates jobs, broadcasts culture and events and more importantly it has aided us in almost every aspect of our lives either directly or indirectly. Can you name a profession that does not use photography? One of the most obvious professions that it is used in, apart from the media, is the police service. When a crime scene needs recording, mug shots need taking or speeding cars need flashing a camera is used. If photography had not been invented our justice system would be still struggling to convict. Very few cases in court don’t have some form of photograph or film as evidence. There are almost 5 million CCTV cameras in the UK and almost as many digital cameras as people.

Photographs have the power to create, to condemn, to celebrate or reveal and to catalyse. How that power has been used and abused is subject to many debates but no one can disagree that the world would be a dramatically different place had photography never been invented. Photographs create a shared memory bank, publicly or privately, whether it is personal or global, whether a family album or a newspaper they have these memories are never lost. Photographs have helped modernise use in every day life to a point where we don’t even notice. Photography has developed our world further than anyone could imagine, we are now in a position were we can capture a nanosecond and produce 3D ultrasound photographs. From the first X-ray at a hospital to the first view of man on the moon, had Daguerre and Niépce had not succeeded in that first step, none of this would be possible.



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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      the article has a good point, but the grammar and spelling is far from perfect

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      we have to use this article for a school project- and this really changed my point of view! as a photographer, this really impacts me.

    • profile image


      6 years ago


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I love your hub. I agree, the world would be dull and boring without the magical touch of photography! I love the photos of

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      camera is so important in our daily life

    • phazed1 profile image


      10 years ago from Singapore

      I need cameras because my memory is imperfect. Great article.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      good writing. very informative

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Clearly you are a big fan of photography and your knowledgable hub supports my theory.As a little tip i would suggest breaking up your text with a photograph or two.

      well done.


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