Explore photography’s history with these rare cameras

New exhibition celebrates the technological advances of the camera.

man holding vintage camera
Weegee, New York, 1945. © Estate of Lisette Model, courtesy Baudoin Lebon/Keitelman.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

It's easy to take camera technology for granted in a time when everyone walks around with a computational photography machine in their pocket, but camera design has come a long way since the camera obscura and Nicéphore Niépce's early experimentations with silver chloride coated paper in 1860. In Focus: The Camera, which is currently on view at The Getty, takes an in-depth look at some of these technological advancements with a selection of twenty cameras that span the 1800s to the mid '90s. The cameras are presented alongside self-portraits made by photographers and images made of photographers at work.

“I wanted to remind our visitors about the people behind the cameras,” says curator Paul Martineau, associate curator at the Getty Museum, “Those who made use of this continually evolving technology to create artworks of great sophistication or to record history as it was unfolding before the lens.”

wooden camera
Camera Obscura, about 1750 - 1800.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Gloria and Stanley Fishfader

The oldest camera on view in In Focus: The Camera is a Camera Obscura from the early 1800. The most recent included in the exhibition is an Apple Quick Take 100 from 1994, one of the very first mass-marketed digital cameras. Daguerreotype cameras, a stereo camera, and a miniature spy camera are also some of the rare pieces of technology on display. Of the 20 cameras on display, Martineau says that one of his favorites is the Semmendinger mammoth plate camera from the late 1800s.

Self-Portrait with Camera
Man Ray, Self-Portrait with Camera, 1932. © Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

“It is big and beautiful,” he says. “I set it on a pedestal in the middle of the gallery and trained its lens on the entrance. That way, people would feel as though they were a camera subject, so to speak, as they came in.”

In Focus: The Camera is on view at The Getty in Los Angeles through Jan. 5, 2020.

Mammoth plate wet-collodion camera
Mammoth plate wet-collodion camera, 1874 – 1885.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift in memory of Beaumont Newhall
self-portrait preparing a collodian plate
Capt. Horatio Ross, Self-portrait preparing a Collodion plate, 1856 - 1859.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The Kodak
The Kodak, 1888.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Gloria and Stanley Fishfader
self portrait with camera
Edward Weston, Self Portrait with Camera, 1908. © 1981 Arizona Board of Regents, Center for Creative Photography.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
wooden Wet-plate Camera
Daguerreotype/Wet-plate Camera, about 1851.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Gloria and Stanley Fishfader
Photographing New York City - on a slender support 18 stories above pavement of Fifth Avenue
Underwood & Underwood, Photographing New York City on a slender support 18 stories above pavement of Fifth Avenue., 1905.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Camera box 1860
Camera box, 1860The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Gloria and Stanley Fishfader
Photographer at a Fire
Weegee, Photographer at a Fire, 1940 - 1945. © International Center of Photography.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Canon S 35mm camera with rare F2 lens
Canon S 35mm camera with rare F2 lens, 1946The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Gloria and Stanley Fishfader
Hasselblad wide angle camera
Hasselblad wide angle camera, 1954 - 1959.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Gloria and Stanley Fishfader
Camera on 12-foot Tripod
George Watson, Camera on 12-foot Tripod, 1920s. © The Watson Family Photo Collection.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Extras with Film Cameras
Anthony Friedkin, Extras with Film Cameras © Anthony FriedkinThe J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Sue and Albert Dorskind
Polaroid Land Camera Model 95
Polaroid Land Camera Model 95, about 1948 - 1949.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Gloria and Stanley Fishfader
The Photojournalist negative 1951
Andreas Feininger, The Photojournalist, negative 1951; print later. © Estate of Gertrud E. FeiningerThe J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Nikon Reporter large load 35mm camera
Nippon Kogaku K.K. Nikon "Reporter" large load 35mm camera, after 1959.The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Gloria and Stanley Fishfader