Lauren Gao’s Ngram Post: Daguerreotype, Camera Obscura, and Photography

For this week’s assignment, I chose to look at the three terms”daguerreotype”, “camera obscura” and “photography” in google’s Ngram viewer. All three terms ultimately relate to the create of photographic processes that we know today more informally as film photography, which preceded digital photography. Daguerreotype and camera obscura are two processes that entail reflecting light off of metal or other surfaces capable of bouncing light to capture images on another surface. These two terms were also the earliest forms of producing almost perfectly replica images in the way modern photography does. However, these two terms are not quite know outside of art history classes or photography majors yet the concept of photography is so integral to today’s society. Why is that? In an attempt to answer this question, I put these three terms into Ngram and the results are reflective of their status in the 19th century.

Screenshot (29)


The parameters I chose for this Ngram chart was that the terms were case-insensitive, between the dates 1800 and 1900, and from the English corpus.

The term photography (in red) clearly rises above the other two around the mid 1850s and continues to do so well afterwards. However, before then, camera obscura is shown to appear more often or be more prominent than either daguerreotypes or the term “photography” well before the 1850s. Daguerreotypes also appear to enjoy a period of popularity for about a decade until the general term “photography” overtakes it. What is more interesting is why there is a sudden spike in the popularity of the word “photography” between 1850 and 1860. One explanation could be how photography agreed with rising trends  and ideals of Romanticism during that same time period (BranchCollective). Another explanation for this sudden spike is that this decade was the time when photography moved from its inception into an actual industry.


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