The French poet Charles Baudelaire voiced the sentiments of many when in 1863 he called for artists to abandon historical subjects in favor of the present moment. “Modernity,” he wrote, “is the transitory, the fleeting, the contingent.”
Newly invented lens-based technologies like photography and cinema were perfectly suited to capture the spontaneous pleasures of everyday life. As a product of the Industrial Revolution, photography was modern from the start. Much like locomotion and electricity, it introduced a new way of seeing the world—a form of vision mediated by machines. Some artists, awed by the speed of railway travel, depicted the blurred landscapes they witnessed from train windows. Others favored domestic interiors, using newly available gas and electric lamps to flood their scenes with light. Still others wandered the city, photographing and filming its dazzling illumination as dusk fell.