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Photography in America

  • This timeline presents events important to the history of photography in America, and milestones in the collecting history of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It includes major technological innovations in photography, as well as more general historic moments to provide context.

1826

  • Joseph Nicephore Niépce, a French scientist and inventor, produces the world’s first permanent photograph from nature, View from the Window at Gras. Niépce spreads bitumen of Judea (natural asphalt) on pewter plates, inserts them into a camera, and exposes the plates for at least eight hours to create a direct positive image of his estate, Le Gras.

1829

  • Niépce begins collaborating with Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, a French artist and stage designer, to further develop his photographic process. Niépce dies in 1833, leaving Daguerre to build upon their research on his own.

1839

Self Portrait

1839, daguerreotype

Henry Fitz Jr.

National Museum of American History, Photographic History Collection 2005-24858

  • On January 7, Daguerre presents the daguerreotype method of photography to the French Academy of Sciences in Paris. Prompted by Daguerre’s presentation, English scientist and author William Henry Fox Talbot formally announces his 1835 invention of photogenic drawing at the Royal Institution in London, two weeks later.
  • In March, Daguerre demonstrates his photographic process for American painter and inventor, Samuel F. B. Morse, in Paris. The following month, Morse describes Daguerre’s “miraculous” invention in a letter published in the New York Observer
  • The steamship British Queen, carrying printed descriptions of Daguerre’s process, arrives in a New York harbor on September 20.
  • In November, Henry Fitz Jr., a telescope maker, makes a self-portrait using Daguerre’s process.
  • In December, French daguerreotypes go on display in New York City.

1840

Samuel F. B. Morse's Daguerreotype Equipment

1888, cyanotype

Thomas Smillie

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Thomas Smillie Collection Image No. RU95 Box 77 10625

  • Samuel F. B. Morse and Dr. John William Draper open a daguerrean portrait studio in New York City. Dr. Draper is credited with making one of the first “open-eyed” portraits of a human face.

1843

A Bride and Her Bridesmaids

1851, daguerreotype

Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by Walter Beck, 2000.110

  • Daguerreotypists Albert S. Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes begin a partnership, establishing Southworth & Hawes as the most highly regarded portrait studio in Boston, Mass. The studio caters to the city’s elite, and is visited by Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among many other influential people of the time.

1846

Architect's Model of the Smithsonian Institution Castle

1846, daguerreotype

Unidentified artist

National Museum of American History, Photographic History Collection 2005-24853

  • Mexican-American War (1846–48) begins. The nearly fifty surviving anonymous daguerreotypes from the conflict may be the first photographs of war.
  • James K. Polk signs the Congressional bill establishing the Smithsonian Institution.

1848

Gold Nugget

ca. 1860s, albumen silver print

Unidentified artist

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2006.36.1

  • California Gold Rush begins after James W. Marshall finds gold at Sutter’s Mill, Coloma, California, sparking mining booms throughout the rest of the century.

1849

  • Samuel Dwight Humphrey in Canandaigua, N.Y., makes the first multiple exposure daguerreotype of the Moon.

1851

  • Wet collodion negative process is invented. This method, combined with the albumen silver print (invented in 1850), produces a detailed photograph on paper, and eventually replaces the daguerreotype as the most popular photographic process.

1853

Mother and Son

ca. 1855, daguerreotype with applied color

Unidentified artist

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.192

  • The New York Daily Tribune estimates that in the United States, three million daguerreotypes are being produced annually.

1857

Shining Metal

1858, salted paper print

Julian Vannerson

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

  • Julian Vannerson and Samuel Cohner make the first systematic photographs of Native American delegations to visit Washington, D.C. They photograph ninety delegates representing thirteen tribes who conduct treaty and other negotiations with government officials.

1861

New York 7th Regiment Officers

ca. 1863, salted paper print

Egbert Guy Fowx

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.53

  • American Civil War begins with shots fired on Fort Sumter by Confederate troops. Portrait photographer Mathew Brady is given permission by President Abraham Lincoln to photograph the First Battle of Bull Run, but comes so close to the battle that he narrowly avoids capture. Using paid assistants Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, George N. Barnard, and others, Brady’s studio makes thousands of photos of the sites, material, and people of the war. Civilian free-lance photographer Egbert Guy Fowx sells numerous negatives to Brady’s studio, which publishes and copyrights many of them. Many other images are credited to Fowx, including this group of Union officers.

1862

  • Photographic Society of Philadelphia is founded.
  • Matthew Brady’s studio exhibits The Dead of Antietam, the first public display of a photograph documenting the carnage of war. The image of soldiers’ dead bodies spares viewers no gruesome detail of the aftermath of the single deadliest battle ever fought on American soil.

1865

  • Confederate forces surrender to the Union Army at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, on April 9, in one of the final battles of the Civil War.
  • President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated on April 14, at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.
  • Alexander Gardner photographs the execution by hanging of the Lincoln assassination conspirators at Fort McNair.

1866

Incidents of the War: A Sharpshooter's Last Sleep

1863, albumen silver print

Alexander Gardner

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2007.4.3

  • Gardner’s Sketchbook of the Civil War, edited by Alexander Gardner, is published in two volumes, with one hundred images by several photographers and explanatory texts by Gardner.
  • Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign, a volume of sixty-one photographs by George Barnard, is published along with a booklet containing narrative text and maps.

1867

Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada

1867, albumen silver print

Timothy H. O'Sullivan

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.142

  • Eadweard Muybridge begins trip to photograph in Yosemite Valley. He publishes his photographs under the name “Helios,” which is also the name of his San Francisco studio.
  • An exhibition of more than 300 photographic portraits of Native American delegates to Washington, D.C., opens in the Smithsonian Castle.
  • Clarence R. King begins direction of the U.S. Geological Expedition of the Fortieth Parallel, appointing Timothy O’Sullivan as the official photographer. Photographer Carleton Watkins joins the survey in 1871.
  • Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, head of the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, begins to include photographs in his annual reports regularly, and hires Andrew J. Russell and William Henry Jackson as the survey’s official photographers.

1869

Sphinx of the Valley

1869, albumen silver print

Andrew Joseph Russell

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.164

  • Andrew J. Russell’s album, The Great West Illustrated in a Series of Photographic Views across the Continent; Taken along the Line of the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska, Volume I, is published.
  • George M. Wheeler begins direction of the United States Geological Surveys West of the 100th Meridian for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Wheeler makes fourteen trips to the West over the next eight years. Photographer Timothy O’Sullivan accompanies him in 1871, 1873, and 1874.

1870

  • Allan Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, located in the Chicago area, begins photographing criminals after arrest, eventually creating the largest collection of mug shots in the world.

1871

Grand Canon of the Yellowstone

1873–1879, albumen silver print

William H. Jackson

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the Library of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1989.66.1.3

  • William Henry Jackson and painter Thomas Moran document Hayden’s survey of the headwaters of the Yellowstone River. Jackson’s photographs and a series of paintings by Moran are used to persuade Congress and President Grant to make Yellowstone America’s first National Park the following year.

1876

  • Alexander Graham Bell obtains the first U.S. patent for a telephone that can transmit speech electrically.

1877

Woman Using Skipping Rope

ca. 1887, collotype

Eadweard Muybridge

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Paul and Laurette Laessle, 1981.82.5

  • Eadweard Muybridge uses a series of cameras and trip devices to photograph Leland Stanford’s horse running and trotting in Palo Alto, California. His studies produce the first evidence that a horse in full gallop does have all four hooves off the ground at some points. For the next decade, Muybridge continues his analysis of the movement of animals and humans at the University of Pennsylvania and, in 1887, he publishes the studies under the title Animal Locomotion: An Electro-Photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movements.
  • George Eastman, age 24, founds Eastman Dry Plate Company in Rochester, N.Y.

1880

  • The first half-tone photograph to appear in a daily newspaper, A Scene in Shantytown, is published in the New York Daily Graphic.
  • Thomas Edison invents the first commercially practical incandescent light bulb.

1888

Three Friends in a Field

ca. 1900, gelatin silver print

Unidentified artist

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.219

  • The Eastman Kodak Company introduces the Kodak No. 1 camera and roll film with the slogan, “You push the button, we do the rest.” The slogan refers to Kodak’s strategy in which the company returns the camera loaded with a new roll of film to the consumer, thereby relieving the customer of having to develop and print their photographs. This revolutionary system effectively launches the amateur snapshot era.

1889

  • The American Amateur Photographer begins publication in Brunswick, Maine.

1893

  • The World’s Columbian Exposition opens to the public in Chicago. Many of the exhibits, such as one sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, feature photographs. William Henry Jackson’s views of the American West are displayed. Photography is also the medium by which the exposition is documented and advertised to the public.

1896

  • The Smithsonian establishes an official Section of Photography to collect and exhibit the history of photography.

1897

  • Camera Notes, edited by Alfred Stieglitz for the New York Camera Club, begins publication.

1898

  • The Eastman Photographic Exhibition at the National Academy of Design opens in New York. It is described as “the largest and most interesting photographic exhibition ever held in America.”
  • The United States intervenes in the Cuban War of Independence in April. The conflict, known as the Spanish-American War, lasts just over three months.
  • The first Philadelphia Photographic Salon, whose stated purpose is “to show only such pictures produced by photography as may give distinct evidence of individual artistic feeling and execution,” opens in Philadelphia.

1900

  • Kodak introduces the Brownie box roll-film camera, the first mass market camera.
  • The New School of American Photography is arranged by F. Holland Day at the Royal Photographic Society in London. It is the first major exhibition of American Pictorialist photography shown in Europe. Photographs by Day, Edward Steichen, Gertrude Käsebier, Clarence H. White, and others, are displayed.

1902

Mercedes de Cordoba

1902, platinum print

Joseph T. Keiley

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.99

  • The Photo-Secession movement is founded by Alfred Stieglitz and friends.
  • American Pictorial Photography Arranged by the Photo-Secession, an exhibition organized by Alfred Stieglitz to highlight contemporary photography as art, opens at the National Arts Club, New York City.
  • Alfred Steiglitz publishes the first issue of Camera Work. Joseph T. Keiley, associate editor and one of the founding members of the Photo-Secession, collaborates with Steiglitz on both the magazine and the glycerine process for producing platinum prints, which facilitate the soft focus both photographers favor. Their shared aesthetic is apparent in Keiley’s photograph of Mercedes de Cordoba, wife of the modernist painter Arthur B. Carles.

1903

Wright Co. Type A Military (Signal Corps No. 1) Trials

1909, glass plate negative

Carl H. Claudy Sr.

National Air and Space Museum Archives SI 95-8513.

  • Henry Ford founds Ford Motor Company and sells his first car, the Model A.
  • Last issue of Camera Notes appears.
  • The Wright Flyer becomes the first powered, piloted airplane to achieve controlled, sustained flight.

1905

  • Alfred Stieglitz opens The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, (commonly known as “291”) on the top floor of 291 Fifth Avenue, New York City.
  • National Geographic Magazine (founded in 1888) publishes photographs for the first time.

1906

Little Orphan Annie in a Pittsburgh Institution

ca. 1910, printed later, gelatin silver print

Lewis W. Hine

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.82

  • Sociologist and photo-journalist Lewis Hine is hired by the U.S. National Child Labor Committee to document the conditions of working children in U.S. industries, from coal mines to textile mills, from meatpacking plants to canneries. Over the following decades, Hine’s photographs are used to help pass important child labor reforms—most notably, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.
  • The San Francisco earthquake and fire is the first widely photographed disaster. Weeks later, Chicago-based photographer George Lawrence makes an aerial image of the damage using a camera suspended from a series of kites.

1907

Girl and Jar—San Ildefonso

1905, photogravure

Edward S. Curtis

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the United States Marshal Service of the U.S. Department of Justice, 1988.5.18

  • Edward S. Curtis publishes the first volume of The North American Indian. Completed in 1930, this publication is comprised of twenty text volumes illustrated with more than 1,500 small photogravures and twenty additional portfolio volumes with more than 700 large-format gravures.

1910

  • International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography, arranged by Alfred Stieglitz and Max Weber, opens at Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. Edward Steichen, Clarence White, Frank Eugene, and Alfred Stieglitz are among the American photographers featured in the exhibition.

1911

  • The Hall of Photography, an exhibition devoted to the history of photography, opens in the Smithsonian Institution’s Arts and Industries Building.

1913

  • The International Exhibition of Modern Art (known as the Armory Show) opens at the Sixty-Ninth Regiment Armory in New York City.

1914

Aerial Bombs Dropping on Montmedy, World War I

ca. 1914–1918, gelatin silver print

Edward Steichen

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1974.34.1

  • World War I begins in Europe. Edward Steichen serves as director of aerial photography for the Allied Forces.
  • The U.S. State Department begins requiring photographic portraits on U.S. passports.

1916

  • The last issue of Camera Work is published in October.

1917

  • 291 gallery closes. Stieglitz will open two other galleries—the Intimate Gallery in 1925, and An American Place in 1929, where he presents mostly monographic shows, often of works by Arthur Dove, John Marin, and Georgia O’Keeffe. The photography he shows includes retrospectives of his own work as well as shows by Ansel Adams (1936) and Eliot Porter (1939).
  • U.S. declares war against Germany, formally entering World War I in support of allies Britain, France, and Russia.

1927

Banner Peak—Thousand Island Lake, Central Sierra

1923, printed 1927, gelatin silver print

Ansel Adams

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1992.101.12

© 2013 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

  • Ansel Adams’s first portfolio of original prints, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, includes eighteen images of a region beloved by both artists and environmentalists.

1928

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, adds photographs to its collection when Alfred Stieglitz makes the first of several important gifts to the museum.

1929

Manhattan Bridge

1936, gelatin silver print

Berenice Abbott

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the Evander Childs High School, Bronx, New York through the General Services Administration, 1975.83.14

  • Berenice Abbott begins photographing New York City, a project that will culminate in 1939 with the exhibition and publication of Changing New York.
  • The “Black Tuesday” collapse of the U.S. stock market on October 29 marks the beginning of the Great Depression.

1931

  • Julian Levy opens a New York gallery with an exhibition devoted to the art of photography. He later exhibits work by Berenice Abbott, Man Ray, and Lee Miller.

1932

Pepper no. 30

1930, gelatin silver print

Edward Weston

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1985.56

  • Group f/64, a loose association of photographers whose work is characterized by sharp focus, contact printing, great depth of field, and glossy prints, exhibits together at the M. H. de Young Museum in San Francisco. Founding members of the group include Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston.

1935

Mountaineers near Jackson, Kentucky cutting their tobacco

1940, printed later, gelatin silver print

Marion Post Wolcott

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Dr. John H. and Jann Arrington Wolcott, 1998.120.41

  • The Resettlement Administration (later the Farm Security Administration or FSA), a New Deal agency established to combat poverty among farmers, begins a documentary project under the direction of Roy Stryker. Photographers Jack Delano, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Marion Post Wolcott, and others are engaged with obtaining a “true picture” of America during the Depression.
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art begins to collect and exhibit photography.

1936

Untitled

1937, printed later, gelatin silver print

Aaron Siskind

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Tennyson and Fern Schad, courtesy of Light Gallery, 1990.73.4

© 1940, Aaron Siskind

  • The Photo League is founded in New York as a group committed to social change through documentary photography. It provides an open forum for artistic collaboration, affordable darkroom facilities, exhibition space, and instruction for members. Co-founded by Sol Libsohn and Sid Grossman (who serves as director of the Photo League School), the League also produces a journal, Photo Notes, edited by Walter Rosenblum. Prominent members of the League include Eliot Elisofon, Morris Engel, Arthur Leipzig, Jerome Liebling, Lisette Model, Ruth Orkin, and Aaron Siskind.
  • The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, by Walter Benjamin is first published in France. Benjamin explores the influence of mass communication in such media as newspapers and film, and discusses the related roles of art and technology under capitalism and fascism. Published in the U.S. in 1968, the essay is highly influential to the study of modern film and photography.
  • Kodak debuts Kodachrome 35mm color slide film, which makes color photography available to a wide market.
  • Time magazine founder Henry Luce buys Life magazine, a light entertainment and humor periodical, solely for its name. Luce contends that pictures can be the primary means of telling stories. Over the coming decades, he makes Life synonymous with photojournalism in America. The first issue features an image of the Fort Peck Dam in Montana, taken by Margaret Bourke-White, on the cover.

1937

  • Photography 1839–1937, organized by Beaumont Newhall, opens at the Museum of Modern Art. Comprised of 841 objects, it is the first attempt by an art museum to trace the history of photography.
  • Edward Weston receives the first Guggenheim Foundation fellowship awarded to a photographer.
  • The New Bauhaus (later renamed the Institute of Design) opens in Chicago under the direction of László Moholy-Nagy. Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind are two of the school’s most influential teachers.
  • The first issue of Look magazine, a general interest bi-weekly known for its emphasis on photography, is published.

1938

Spring Planting

1938, gelatin silver print

Robert McNeill

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1993.72.2

© 1938, Robert McNeill

  • Twenty-year-old photographer Robert McNeill travels throughout the state to take photographs for the Works Progress Administration publication, The Negro in Virginia.
  • Photography and the American Scene: A Social History, by Robert Taft is published. The book traces the medium’s stylistic and technological developments, as well as its relationship to America’s social and cultural history.
  • American Photographs, an exhibition of photographs by Walker Evans curated by Lincoln Kirsten, is held at the Museum of Modern Art. It is the first solo photography exhibition ever held at the museum.
  • Ohio University becomes the first university in the United States to offer a major in photography.

1939

Densmore Shute Bends the Shaft

1938, printed 1976, gelatin silver print

Harold E. Edgerton

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard F. Young, 1991.89.2

© 2013 Harold Edgerton, Courtesy Palm Press, Inc.

  • World War II begins in Europe when Germany invades Poland on September 1.
  • The year marks the centennial of the announcement of the invention of photography.
  • MIT engineer and photographer Harold Edgerton publishes his first book, Flash! Seeing the Unseen by Ultra-High-Speed Photography, sharing with the world his ground-breaking advances in high-speed photography.

1941

Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead

1936, printed 1974, gelatin silver print

Walker Evans

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Lee and Maria Friedlander, 2006.13.1.8

  • Japan attacks Pearl Harbor on December 7. United States enters World War II.
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, with photographs by Walker Evans and text by James Agee, is published in Cambridge, Mass.

1944

  • Allied Forces invade Europe at Omaha Beach on June 6, D-Day.
  • Irving Penn begins photographing for Vogue magazine.

1945

  • World War II ends in Europe when Germany surrenders to the Western Allies and the Soviet Union in May. The War ends in Asia when Japan surrenders in August.

1946

Mushroom cloud with ships below during Operation Crossroads nuclear weapons test on Bikini Atoll, July 1946

1946, gelatin silver print

United States Army Air Service

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division LC-DIG-ds-02945

  • The U.S. atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll are heralded in the September issue of U.S. Camera as “the world’s most photographed event.” The first of these two tests generates over 100,000 photographs.

1948

  • Polaroid Land Camera goes on sale in November at Jordan Marsh department store in Boston. Named for its inventor, Edwin H. Land, it is the world’s first instant camera.

1949

  • George Eastman House International Museum of Film and Photography opens to the public.

1950

  • The Korean conflict, the first military action of the Cold War, begins.

1952

Untitled, Vicinity of Attica, New York

1957, gelatin silver print

Minor White

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Bernie Stadiem, 2003.35

Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum © Trustees of Princeton University

  • Aperture magazine is founded by Minor White (editor from 1952 to 1975) along with Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Barbara Morgan, Nancy Newhall, and Beaumont Newhall.

1954

Auragia

1953, printed ca. 1960s, gelatin silver print

Imogen Cunningham

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2007.37.2

  • Helen Gee opens the Limelight Gallery (1954–61) in Greenwich Village, New York, as a meeting place for photographers to show and discuss their work. The gallery exhibits work by Harry Callahan, Imogen Cunningham, Louis Faurer, and Lisette Model among many others.
  • Kodak introduces high-speed Tri-X film.

1955

  • The Museum of Modern Art in New York hosts the exhibition The Family of Man, curated by Edward Steichen. The exhibition catalogue is reprinted in several formats and sells more than five million copies by 1978. It becomes one of the most visited exhibitions of all time, and travels to thirty-eight countries.
  • A Photographer’s Gallery (1955–57), founded by photographer Roy DeCarava, opens in New York.
  • The Sweet Flypaper of Life, with photographs by Roy DeCarava and text by Langston Hughes, is published.
  • This is the American Earth, an exhibition of photographs by Ansel Adams, Margaret Bourke White, William Garnett, Edward Weston, and others produced under the auspices of the Sierra Club, opens at the LeConte Memorial Lodge, Yosemite. The exhibition and the works included influence the modern environmental movement. A book of the same title with text by Nancy Newhall is published in 1960.

1958

Butte, Montana

1956, printed 1973, gelatin silver print

Robert Frank

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1974.31.2

  • Les Américains by Robert Frank is published by Robert Delpire in Paris and in the United States as The Americans in 1959 by Grove Press.

1959

  • The Russian spacecraft Lunik III secures photographs of the side of the Moon not visible from Earth.

1962

  • John Glenn makes the first manned orbital flight of Earth.
  • U.S. opposes Russia’s construction of nuclear missile bases on the island of Cuba in a stand-off known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Photographic images obtained by satellite and military aircraft are used as proof of the missiles’ existence, and the missiles are removed.

1963

  • Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the Poor People’s March on Washington, D.C. on August 28.
  • President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22.
  • First national conference of the Society for Photographic Education, founded by Nathan Lyons as a forum for the discussion of photography and related media, is held in Chicago.

1964

  • The U.S. spacecraft Ranger Seven transmits more than 4,000 photographs of the Moon to Earth for seventeen minutes prior to its impact on the surface.
  • “The medium is the message,” a phrase that will become culturally iconic, is published in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, by Marshall McLuhan.

1965

  • The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is established by an act of Congress.

1967

Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)

1973, gelatin silver print

Brett Weston

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.1659

© 1973, Brett Weston

  • The Friends of Photography is founded in Carmel, California, by Ansel Adams, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Brett Weston, and others, with the aim of promoting creative photography and supporting its practitioners. It remains in existence until 2001.

1968

Earthrise

1968

Apollo 8 Crew

Image courtesy NASA

  • Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4.
  • John Hart, of CBS News, coins the phrase “photo opportunity” while reporting on the appearance of Richard Nixon with television star Jackie Gleason.
  • Apollo Eight crew take the first photographs of the Earth from space.

1969

  • Neil Armstrong becomes the first person to set foot on the moon.
  • Lee Witkin opens the Witkin Gallery in New York City. The gallery is notable for showing a wide variety of contemporary and historical photographs.
  • Moneta Sleet Jr. is the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize. His photograph of Coretta Scott King captures her grief during the funeral of her husband, Martin Luther King Jr.

1971

Church—Sprott, Alabama

1971, chromogenic print

William Christenberry

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.329

© 1971, William Christenberry

  • The National Endowment for the Arts begins awarding individual grants to photographers. William Christenberry is among the photographers chosen to receive a grant in this inaugural year.
  • Tennyson Schad opens Light Gallery on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
  • Last bi-weekly issue of Look magazine is published in October.

1972

  • Last weekly issue of Life magazine is published in December.
  • Polaroid SX-70, a one-step instant photography system, is introduced.

1975

Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973

1973, printed 1994, gelatin silver print

Frank Gohlke

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2010.15.3

© 1973, Frank Gohlke

  • New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape opens at the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, N.Y. It includes photographs by Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel Jr.
  • The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, Tucson, is founded.
  • The first digital camera is designed and built by Steven Sasson, an engineer at Eastman Kodak.

1976

July 4th Celebration, Louisville, Jefferson County, KY

1976, gelatin silver print

Robert K. Hower

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.786

©1976, Robert K. Hower

  • The United States celebrates its bicentennial.
  • The National Endowment for the Arts begins making photography survey grants to document the country’s towns, cities, and states, during the nostalgic bicentennial period.
  • Color Photographs by William Eggleston opens at the Museum of Modern Art, accompanied by the publication William Eggleston’s Guide. Eggleston’s photographs become a lightning rod for criticism of color photography in the art world.
  • The first image of the surface of Mars is taken by Viking I lander.

1977

Around Toroweap Point, just before and after sundown, beginning and ending with views used by J.K. Hillers, over 100 years ago, Grand Canyon

1986, gelatin silver prints

Mark Klett

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 1988.66A–E

© 1986, Mark Klett

  • The Rephotographic Survey Project begins. Photographers Mark Klett, JoAnn Verburg, and Rick Dingus, photographic historian Ellen Manchester, and mathematics teacher Gordon Bushaw spend three years rephotographing more than 120 sites originally documented in the nineteenth century by survey photographers of the American West. The project is published in 1984 as Second View: The Rephotographic Survey Project.
  • The Apple II desktop computer is introduced.
  • Pictures, the first group show of conceptually oriented art inspired by photographic representation opens at Artists Space in New York. Curated by critic Douglas Crimp, the exhibition includes the work of Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, and Philip Smith.
  • On Photography by Susan Sontag is published.

1983

Washington, D.C., 1975

1975, gelatin silver print

Kenneth Josephson

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.828

© 1975, Kenneth Josephson

  • The Smithsonian American Art Museum receives a transfer of 1,750 photographs from the National Endowment for the Arts and makes a commitment to collecting and exhibiting photographs.

1984

  • Exposed and Developed: Photographs Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum from May 18 through October 8.
  • Sony introduces the first commercial electronic still camera, the Mavica.

1985

Grand Falls of the Little Colorado, Arizona

1988, inkjet print

Martin Stupich

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by David S. Purvis, 2009.8.1

© 1988/2008, Martin Stupich

  • The first inkjet printer using water-soluble dye-based inks, introduced by Iris Graphics, is used to print large-format photographs from digital files on a wide variety of artist’s papers.

1987

  • Fuji introduces the Quick-Snap disposable 35-mm camera, the first modern one-time-use camera available in the United States.

1988

Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York

1989, chromogenic print

John Pfahl

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 1991.27.3

© 1989, John Pfahl

  • The Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation partners with the Smithsonian America Art Museum to acquire contemporary landscape photographs. This collection eventually includes more than 300 photographs.

1990

  • The Adobe Photoshop 1.0 image manipulation program is introduced for Apple Macintosh computers.
  • Irving Penn: Master Images, an exhibition of 120 photographs by Irving Penn given to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, opens.

1991

  • Tim Berners-Lee publishes the first website of the World Wide Web.

1996

  • Epson introduces the first inkjet printer for the consumer market.

1997

  • Philippe Kahn invents camera phone technology.

2001

World Trade Center Series, New York City

2001, gelatin silver print

Kevin Bubriski

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 2003.65.1

©2001, Kevin Bubriski

  • Terrorists crash passenger planes into the World Trade Center, N.Y.; the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.; and Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania on September 11.

2004

  • Kodak announces that it will cease production of film cameras.
  • Facebook, an online social-networking service, launches.
  • Flickr, an image hosting website and online community, launches.

2007

Constellation

2004, instant color prints

María Magdalena Campos-Pons

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment 2013.23A–P

© 2004, María Magdalena Campos-Pons

  • Polaroid Corporation stops production of Polaroid instant print cameras.

2010

  • Kodak ceases sale of Kodachrome color film.

2012

  • The Smithsonian American Art Museum receives an endowment to support a named curatorial position in photography, to be known as the McEvoy Family Curator for Photography.

2013

  • The Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the museum’s photography collection with the exhibition A Democracy of Images.
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