Consumer photography has been a powerful force in the American consciousness since the 1880s. It has shaped our understandings of who we are, what images do, and the relationship between the two. Here, in brief form, is how it happened.
With the advent of the roll-film camera, photography was poised to become a leisure activity (Murray 151). George Eastman, the founder of the Kodak company, described this new attitude in his corporate slogan: “You push the button and we do the rest.” As the public began to adopt the new technology, artistic photography emerged as a subgenre of consumer photography (Murray 151).
The Brownie inaugurated the birth of snapshot photography (Murray 152). As a result, it also widened the developing gap between professional and amateur photographers (Murray 152). In the latter group especially, there was a push to use photography to capture the special moments of domestic life (Murray 152).
During this period, consumer photography secured its place as the recorder of modern life.
The 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of the postmodern worldview and the decline of modern thought. As a result, the notion of photography as a reflection of reality also began to change (Murray 152).
As digital cameras gained popularity and began to replace film, some scholars predicted the death of photography and the beginning of a “post-photographic era.” According to Lev Manovich, this new era offered both “historical continuity and discontinuity” with the previous century of consumer photography (Qtd. in Murray 153).