This chapter provides an overview of the contested emergence of photography in the second half of the nineteenth century. In the field of media studies, photography is often positioned to provide a critique of historically specific modes of understanding and representation. Viewed as a medium, photography and its early development offers important insights into various debates about evidence, truth, and authenticity, and more generally modernity. The chapter reviews examples of photography's contested emergence in the United States from the world of portraiture, the courtroom, immigration enforcement, and journalism. In most of these cases photographs provided an initial challenge to the authority of the word (both spoken and written). The examples also illustrate that whether it is linked to understandings of personal identity, citizenship, national identity and democracy, or capitalism, consumption, and mass culture, the complicated set of practices associated with photography provides important examples of how the present of the nineteenth century was imagined and interrogated as new.
While it is often stated that photography was invented in 1839 it is more accurate to posit that photography emerged in the nineteenth century. Invoking 1839 refers to the year that Daguerre made his photographic process public. He sold his invention to the French government, which led to the spread and development of daguerreotypes. These were images that ...