For the first time in human history, a single moment in time could be captured in a way never before imagined. The invention of photography made possible a permanent visible image with a fidelity that the human mind and eye could never achieve.

It can be argued that photography has changed life more than any single invention.

Today we take photographic imagery for granted and cannot imagine a time when it was not a fact of human existence. Thousands of still and moving images flood our every waking hour. The impact on us cannot be denied.

Nevertheless, we are aware that the photographer can choose when and what to image; technique and artistry can affect the end results, so photographs are never free of personal motivations and human cant – unless, as is increasingly frequent in our own day, the image is captured by a surveillance camera.

Before there were photographs, only a minority of people who could afford to have a painting or drawing made of themselves had the luxury of leaving a visual record of their appearance, but even then the result was dependent on the skill of the artist, the conventions of the day and the ego of the person who commissioned the work. Yet for the first time – even in a photographer’s studio – in spite of all the skills and tricks the photographer could manage, the image was true to life in a way that was often sobering. The phrase, “the camera doesn’t lie” became an accepted popular notion, but it was accepted. Also for the first time for ordinary folk, it was accepted that a “bad” likeness could be the result when our cultural perceptions of a pleasant expression were not achieved. The photo could be bruising to our egos, but that didn’t keep most people from “having their likeness struck” by this amazing invention (and the best portrait painters were still available when it really mattered!).

Suddenly people of modest means could take advantage of that never-before opportunity for a degree of visual immortality – as far as fragile film and paper allowed. But there was one monumental miscalculation: those who had their image recorded for family and friends were very likely to assume that someone would always remember whose image they had before them. Not so – witness the millions of photographs, entire albums of them, that have not a line of identification scribbled on them, completely lost to the memory of the living and of no perceived value to the heirs who haven’t a clue whose faces and bodies they see before them.

Aside from the human egos and intentions of generations of people who pose (or are “caught”) by the camera, there is value in much of what has escaped the land fills and dust bins of our trash-happy age. There are sellers and collectors who preserve and are fascinated by the enormous efforts of professional, amateur – as well as technically and visually challenged photographers – who have had their own reasons for recording what was important to them. Their often tattered, faded, yellowing, unattributed efforts are the human detritus on paper that find a continued life in this digital age.