Explore the many different ways photography has been used to document and interpret the modern world.


Some photographers pose their subjects, others capture people in candid moments. Sometimes, it's hard to tell the difference.

Photography and Public Image

Photographs of public figures or celebrities often reinforce their personas rather than reveal the real person behind the public image, but sometimes photographers manage to break through the facade.

Photography as Witness

Photographs of news stories and major events can often shape collective memory and how history is written and understood.

Sets, Stories, and Situations

Throughout photography’s history, photographers have staged images to evoke literature, films, real events, and, sometimes, the artifice of the medium itself.

The Photographic Record

Since its inception, photography has helped build a collective archive of human experience.

Since its invention in 1839, photography has served as a medium for documenting, understanding, and interpreting the world. It has radically contributed to the evolution of visual representation, in part by allowing for the documentation of a moment in time, and, because of its inherent reproducibility, by enabling the wide circulation and distribution of images—which has exploded with the advent of the Internet and social media platforms.

Photographs are forms of representation, shaped by a series of decisions made by the photographer. Moreover, the way we interpret a photograph is influenced not only by the photographer’s intention, but also by the ways in which a picture is produced, edited, and circulated. Photography has been used throughout history and into the present day as a tool for science and exploration; as a means of documenting people, places and events; of telling stories and recording histories; and as a mode of communication and critique in our increasingly visual culture. The medium is being continually reinvented and rethought, shaped as much by technological advances as it is by the ever-changing dialogues surrounding photography’s use.

One who uses a camera or other means to produce photographs.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.

The visual portrayal of someone or something.

The materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).

Related Artists: Eugène Atget, Richard Avedon, Mathew B. Brady (studio of), Julia Margaret Cameron, Thomas Demand, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Walker Evans, Alexander Gardner, Katy Grannan, David Wark Griffith, Philippe Halsman, Frances Benjamin Johnston, Dorothea Lange, Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon), Gilles Peress, Walid Raad, Jacob August Riis, August Sander, Cindy Sherman, William J. Shew, Laurie Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Jeff Wall, Carrie Mae Weems