To understand the history of the image and in particular, the photographic image, one has to consider the ancient civilizations. Egyptian paintings and works of art are well documented but it wasn’t until the rise of the Roman Empire that the portrait flourished. Roman portraits primarily took the form of a sculpture and it was particularly fashionable to depict an unflattering representation of the subject. Our seemingly modern fascination with perfection can be traced back to France during the middle ages when the trend shifted to producing painted portraits that favoured an idealized symbol of what the person looked like.
Due to the enormous cost, commissioning a painted or sculptured portrait was an act reserved only for royalty and the very highest within society. To meet the high demand for inexpensive portraiture saw the invention of the daguerreotype during the middle of the 19th century that employed numerous physical and chemical discoveries of the era. This was essentially an early type of photograph in which the image is exposed directly onto a photosensitive plate. Further refinement of the design and processes as well as advancements in photographic glass plates reduced the cost and a large number of photographic studios in major cities around the world began to offer photographic services to the masses.
Development of the photographic film towards the end of the 19th century replaced photographic plates. Photography and the professional photographer were no longer confined to the studio. A great many advances in the technology led to the appearance of the modern 35mm and compact film cameras used today. The costs were further reduced to the point where cameras became disposable as early as the mid eighties. The inclusion of a variety of cameras in the basket of 650 goods used to calculate the Retail Price Index for almost two decades is testament to the popularity of photography. The 35mm camera was only recently removed in 2006 when it was replaced with the digital camera.
Digital cameras first became commercially available in the very early nineties and saw the replacement of film with a photon sensitive chip and rewriteable memory cards. There are many advantages when comparing digital against film. One such advantage is that the physical size of a camera can be reduced such that it can be incorporated into a mobile phone. Despite initially being very expensive, digital overtook film in developed countries in 2002 and the technology is now cheap enough to allow for disposable digital cameras. Photography as a profession, as a hobby and part of popular culture has become even more accessible thanks to the digital technology to the point that the percentage photo retouching services of the UK population owning a digital camera or camera phone has risen to 90% according to a recent survey.
Shipment volumes of digital cameras have been rising year on year and totaling 7.5 million units in 2007. Total digital camera sales hit 50 million in 2003, rising to 114 million in 2007 and forecasts don’t predict slowdown due to market saturation any time before 2010.
The digital revolution has made the transition of getting an image from the camera lens to the computer screen a trivial exercise. Retouching encompasses everything from modest enhancement to restoration and recovery of an otherwise objectionable or unusable image. Photographic retouching is often considered to be a modern concept due to recent advances in computer performance and software capability besides the relatively recent introduction of the digital camera itself. However, this is far from the truth.
Photo manipulation is as old as photography itself. Joseph Stalin regularly made use of photo retouching techniques for propaganda purposes as early as the 1920s. Before computers, photo manipulation was achieved by retouching with ink, paint, double exposure and piecing photos or negatives together in the darkroom.