The history of modern photography began in 1839 when the daguerreotype camera, developed by Louis Daguerre and Joseph Niepce, became the innovative tool for preserving historical imagery in the early 19th century. Prior to this, the main methods for capturing imagery were via the traditional artist and paintbrush or the use of a camera obscura, a device that projected an image of its surroundings onto a screen, after which an artist would carefully “trace” the image thereby providing an accurate representation.
The daguerreotype became the premier method of photography in the 1840s. It was then that African American photographers Augustus Washington, Presley Ball, and Jules Lion, considered among the pioneers in photography, began to develop a visual legacy of Black Americans, which documented the slave experience through to the Civil Rights Era.
From 1842 to 1942, African American photo artists and educators were continually recognized for their accomplishments. Black photographers of the time seized the moment to counter the negative perceptions of black people by taking portraits that represented societal norms—photographs of weddings, family and community events, even photographic documentation of personal achievements, helped to communicate accurately that black Americans could also experience personal triumphs and social dignities.
As for the social and political movements during the first half of the 20th century, not every photograph forwarded by the media portrayed positive representations of the civil rights movement. Hence, it was important during the 1950s and '60s for photographers to lead the way in preserving the positive events of the civil rights movement. Black photographers like Jack Franklin and Jonathan Eubanks pictorially noted the importance of expanding positive societal awareness of these events, helping to contradict the negative depictions and impact of the cultural media mainstream by also promoting an accurate awareness of the peaceful civil rights demonstrations, preserving evidence of diversity and the community's individual and societal goals and values.
Photography could be considered a tool to communicate, empower, and capture unique and important moments in history—one frame at a time. Moreover, photography’s intended purpose—to represent artistically cultural expressions, people, phenomena, styles, tragedies, and various individual artistic perceptions—can be especially true in fashion photography.
Fashion photography serves as a cultural watermark for a given time period. It is a solid indicator of the socio-political climate of an era. During the 1900s—and specifically during the '20s and '30s—changing fashion trends symbolized women’s struggle for sexual, economic, and social equality. The influence of couture continued into the '50s, when the fashion and glamor of the era was captured by the iconic women of the time like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn. However, not many of the iconic fashion images of the 1950s were representative of all women.