Modern photography is generally agreed to have begun with the invention of the Daguerrotype in 1839. At that time art served a dual purpose, that of providing an aesthetic experience and that of accurately documenting people, places and historical events for posterity. The camera was very soon capable of a far greater degree of accuracy than the human hand and at far greater speed and, equally quickly, it was regarded as a mechanical threat to the role and livelihood of the artist.
Ironically, it had the reverse effect. Photography freed artists to express their own, internal visions without being tethered to the requirements of representational art. It’s no coincidence that the Impressionists, the Fauves, the post-Impressionists and Expressionists all burst onto the world stage with the arrival of the camera. The whole world owes photography at least one huge debt of gratitude. Without it there would have been no Renoir, no Seurat or Degas, Monet, Van Gogh or Picasso!
But something else happened early in the history of photography. And photography gave us another debt that has been far slower to be recognised and slower still to be repaid.