Why I Enjoyed Studying the History of Photography

For most people, when you talk about history, there are a few preconceived notions about what it might be like.

These include long drawn passages full of dates, documentation of mundane facts that might or might not be of interest and extensive accounts of political conversations and internal skirmishes, to name a few.

What I’m really trying to say is, when we hear the word ‘history’, many of us jump to the conclusion that it is probably boring.

Truth be told, I was really no different and when I found out ‘history of photography’ was on the syllabus, I do admit I rolled my eyes a little. I had no interest in knowing about what was done and dusted. What I did sign up for was to sharpen and hone my skills as a photographer. I wanted to make the transition from amateur pictures taken here and there to a full blow artistic process.

What good was studying art history I wondered?

When I did finally get to it though, I realized a few things.

quite informative

Firstly, the way the information was delivered made it feel a lot less monotonous and a lot easier to digest. Though I was still unclear on why I needed to know how black and white photos evolved to color, I was happy that the content I was taking in was at least easy to understand. It was also quite informative.

I didn’t realize when I switched from reluctantly partaking to actually being enthusiastic about learning about the history of photography. What I do know is, when that interest did sprout, I wanted to find out more than I knew.

I realized, as an amateur, it might not matter, but as a serious photographer, it made perfect sense to have an awareness of how my discipline of choice evolved.

Not just artistically speaking but even from a technological standpoint. I realized that understanding where the art form comes from as well as the processes of photographers in the past informs the mindset witch which I approach my work now.

Sure you can be a great cook just cooking with your gut but in order to become a chef, you need to know how things were done before you rocked up!

To make a long story short, it feels good to know what the discipline I have chosen is all about. It helps to understand old equipment in order to navigate your new age camera! Last but not least, studying the history of photography exposed me to influences I might have missed out on. It most definitely informs my work today!

Lisa Scholfield

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