These days, when cameras are everywhere, from our phones to security cams in public spaces, it’s easy to forget that the major part of history has passed without them. Only in 1888, when Kodak released the first commercial camera, did they slowly begin permeating our lives.
But long before thousands of snaps on our camera rolls, photographs were reserved for capturing precious and one-of-a-kind moments. These incredible visual monuments of history have resurfaced and brought a whole new meaning to events and lives of people in the past.
And today we’re about to get on board down memory lane full of raw emotions and unstaged realities captured in these rare historical photos. After you’re done, make sure to check out our part 1 right here.
100,000 Iranian Women March Against The Hijab Law, Tehran 1979
Meet The "Night Witches", Fearless Russian Female Pilots Who Bombed Nazis By Night, 1941
A Native American Mother And Her Child - 1900s
“Photography historians are each different in how they approach studying the life of the medium: some are interested in its technical history, asking what camera improvements, and limitations, meant for the people who became photographers,” Gabrielle Moser told Bored Panda.
Gabrielle is a writer, book author, independent curator, and Assistant Professor of Aesthetics and Art Education at York University. She was happy to share some insights into the wondrous world of historical photography and what photography historians do to bring them back to life.
“What could you literally photograph—because of film speed, exposure times, and the ability or inability to print multiple copies of an image—and what did that mean for the kinds of images that were made?” These are the inquiries photography historians are looking for the answers to.
In 1941, The Photo On The Left Was Taken Of Soviet Soldier Eugen Stepanovich Kobytev On The Day He Left To Go To War. The Photo On The Right Was Taken In 1945 After The End Of The War, Just 4 Years Apart
Keshia Thomas Protects An Alleged Kkk Supporter From A Mob In Ann Arbor, Mi, 1996
A Red Cross Nurse Writing Down Last Words Of Mortally Wounded Soldier, Taken Around 1917
“For instance,” Gabrielle continued, “war photography was incredibly difficult until the early 1900s since shutter speeds were so slow and exposure times were so long that any movement, like armed battle, wouldn’t be captured by the camera. That didn’t mean that photographers didn’t make images of wars, but that they had to be inventive, using staging, re-enactment, or capturing the aftermath of battle, as Roger Fenton, Mathew Brady, and Timothy O’Sullivan were all very skilled at.”
Annette Kellerman Promotes Women's Right To Wear A Fitted One-Piece Bathing. She Was Arrested For Indecency (1907)
British Soldiers (Interrupted During Drag Show Rehearsals By A German Raid) Manning A Bl 6-Inch Mk Vii Naval Gun At Shornemead Fort, England In 1940
The professor explained that many important photography historians have also traced where these images circulated, who would have seen them, and in what context: “did they have captions? Were they shown in newspapers, or in more spectacular settings like lantern slide presentations, or through a stereoscope which produced a 3D effect for the viewer? Were they used by the government for the purposes of surveillance, or by activists to make claims for social change?”
Grand Central Terminal, NYC, The Sun Can't Shine Through Like That Now Due To The Surrounding Tall Buildings. 1929
Coal Miners Coming Up A Coal Mine Elevator After A Day Of Work In 1920's Belgium
Today In 1945, The Auschwitz Death Camp Was Discovered And Liberated By The Red Army
“Other photography historians are curious about how photography was used as a fine art form and about how artists like Julia Margaret Cameron, F. Holland Day, and Berenice Abbott adapted the medium to make photographs that were taken as seriously as paintings and sculptures from the same period.”
More recently, there has been an interest among photography historians in the social life of photographs. “It focuses less on the artists who made the images and more on the people who are in them. These historians ask how photographs might be used to claim rights, like citizenship, or to protest social and political injustices,” the professor explained and named some important figures who used images for social justice: “Photographers like Lewis Hine, Raja Deen Dayal, James van der Zee, and later Roy DeCarava, Susan Meiselas, and Zanele Muholi.”
A Boy's Reaction Staring At A TV Screen For The First Time (1948)
American Troops Treat A Wounded Dog On Orote Pennisula. W.Eugene Smith. 1944
Female Snipers Of The 3rd Shock Army, 1st Belorussian Front, 775 Confirmed Kills, Germany, May 1945
When asked how photography historians determine the date, context, and the participants of the particular photograph if there are no apparent indications, Gabrielle said that most photography historians rely on their technical knowledge of photography to date images that are “orphaned" from their captions.
“We examine the photographic print—its dimensions, the quality of the image, its wear and tear—to determine what kind of camera or printing technique was used. Daguerreotypes produce a mirrored surface, a high level of detail and contrast, but could only be made at very small scales, for instance, while salt prints could be much larger, and printed on paper, but sacrificed a level of detail.”
Lockheed Martin Employee Sally Wadsworth Working On The Fuselage Of A P-38 Lightning In California In 1944
Arikara Warrior 'Bear’s Belly' - North Dakota, USA - Photo By Edward Curtis (1909)
Turns out that “early Kodak cameras were the first widely available and cheap mass-produced cameras in North America, introduced in 1888,” Gabrielle said and added that they have particular prints that produce a circular image.
“Determining the context in which an image from the past circulated can be much trickier. Historians often have to look to archives of illustrated newspapers to see if photographs were reproduced there, and often with photographs made for press agencies, like Magnum or Black Star, stamps and captions are included on the back to indicate where the image was seen.”
An Undercover Police Officer On Duty. New York, Brooklyn, 1 July 1969
San Francisco's Iconic Cliff House, Shortly Before It Was Destroyed By Fire In 1907
Geologist Thomas Griffith Taylor And Meteorologist Charles Wright In The Entrance Of An Ice Grotto. Terra Nova Expedition, Ross Island, 5 January 1911. Photo Taken By Herbert Ponting
However, in the case of private or domestic images, “like portraits, family photo albums, passport photographs, or class photographs,” the professor said that we might not ever know everything we want to know about who is in the photographs, or what context in which they were made. Having said that, she added that “we can use our imaginative capacities to speculate and make educated guesses.”
Visiting Quarantined Family And Friends At Ullevål Hospital, Oslo - Photo By Anders Beer Wilse - 1905
A U.S. Marine Rescues Two Vietnamese Children During A Gun Battle At The City Of Hue, During The Tet Offensive Of The Vietnam War - 1968
A Woman Overlooking A Snowy Mountain Pass In The Pyrenees Mountains, France - 1956
According to Gabrielle, as digital photography has become accessible to almost everyone through smart phones, we have begun to value historical photographic processes, “especially ones that have been made obsolete, more highly. Especially the processes that resulted in one-of-a-kind images, like photograms, daguerreotypes, cyanotypes, and Polaroids, because they seem unique and irreproducible.”
Homecoming, A British Soldier With His 8 Month Old Daughter As He Arrives At The Docks From Overseas 1945
A German World War II Prisoner Is Released By The Soviet Union And Reunited With His 12-Year-Old Daughter, Who Has Not Seen Him Since Infancy. 1956
Mother And Baby Of Family Of Nine Living In Field On U.S. Route 70 Near The Tennessee River, March 1936
“In many ways, the more we know about the history of photography, the more we seem to find parallels between now and the past. We might worry that there are 'too many images' in the world through platforms like Instagram, TikTok, or even in the millions of photographs uploaded to Flickr and Facebook each day, but if we look back at some of the earliest cartoons and caricatures about the invention of photography in France in 1839, we see the same panic surrounded the first viable and publicly available photographic method, too,” Gabrielle concluded.