When photography and film first appeared in the 19th century, they fascinated viewers with their ability not only to record but also to reinvent reality. These technologies reshaped the visual culture of the time, providing an alternative to traditional methods of image-making involving hand, pen, and brush.
Cameras served a variety of functions: they were used as documentary tools, instruments of science, and aids to artists and artisans working in other media. And they allowed photographers to create remarkable works of art. Photographs and films captured the highs and lows of life with deadpan mechanical precision. Upending earlier modes of information distribution, they exposed social concerns and facilitated the development of new narrative forms. By reproducing movement in unprecedented ways, and by making the familiar unfamiliar and the invisible visible, these lens-based techniques contributed to shifting conceptions of time and space in the modern era.