Explore the many different ways photography has been used to document and examine the modern world.


Some photographers pose their subjects, others capture candid images of people. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell the difference.

Photography and Public Image

Today, the identity of a notable figure or celebrity may be largely crafted through photographic images.

Photography as Witness

Photographs of major historic events often help define collective memory or provide indisputable evidence of moments in history.

Sets, Stories, and Situations

Throughout the history of the medium, photographers have staged images to evoke or reference literature, films, or real events.

The Photographic Record

Since its inception, photography has helped build a collective archive of human experience.

Since its invention in 1839, photography has made radical contributions to the evolution of visual representation. The medium brought with it the ability to capture motion, document a split-second of time, and, thanks to its inherent reproducibility, allowed for the wide circulation of images.

From the beginning, there has been no single method for taking photographs. “Photography appears to be an easy activity,” photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson observed. “In fact it is a varied and ambiguous process in which the only common denominator among its practitioners is their instrument.”1 Photographs are made for a variety of purposes and disciplines, including portraiture, science, travel, journalism, propaganda, and art. The medium continues to be reinvented and rethought, shaped by technological advances in equipment and processing and the ever-changing cultural and social dialogues surrounding its use.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, “The Mind’s Eye,” inThe Mind’s Eye: Writing on Photography and Photographers, ed. Michael L. Sand (New York: Aperture, 1976), 15

One who uses a camera or other means to produce photographs.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

The visual portrayal of someone or something.

A representation of a particular individual.

The materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).

Related Artists: Eugène Atget, Richard Avedon, Mathew B. Brady (studio of), Julia Margaret Cameron, Thomas Demand, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Walker Evans, Alexander Gardner, Philippe Halsman, Frances Benjamin Johnston, Dorothea Lange, Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon), Gilles Peress, Walid Raad, Jacob August Riis, August Sander, Cindy Sherman, William J. Shew, Jeff Wall, Carrie Mae Weems