Some of the earliest surviving painted portraits of people, who were not kings or emperors, are the funeral portraits that survived in the dry climate of Egypt in the 7th century BC. Through the centuries, portraits have been a hugely important part of an artist’s job. With the advent of the camera in the 19th century, the transformation from painted portraits to photographic portraits moved quickly. The relatively low cost of the daguerreotype in the middle of the 19th century and the reduced sitting time for the subject, led to a general rise in the popularity of portrait photography over painted portraiture.
The style of these early works reflected the technical challenges associated with long exposure times and the painterly aesthetic of the time. Subjects were photographed with the soft light of an overhead window and whatever else could be reflected with mirrors. Advances in photographic equipment and techniques gave photographers the ability to capture images with shorter exposure times and the making of portraits outside the studio. Studios sprang up in cities around the world, some producing more than 500 photographic plates a day. In the 20th century, as photographic techniques advanced, photographers took their talents out of the studio and onto battlefields, across oceans and into remote locations to capture portraits of the people of a fast changing world.