Innovative in the Moment

The word “photography” was created from the Greek roots φωτός (phōtos), genitive of φῶς (phōs), “light” and γραφή (graphé) “representation by means of lines” or “drawing”, together meaning “drawing with light”.

Several people may have coined the same new term from these roots independently. Hercules Florence, a French painter, and inventor living in Campinas, Brazil, used the French form of the word photographies in private notes which a Brazilian historian believes were written in 1834. This claim is widely reported but is not yet largely recognized internationally. The first use of the word by the Franco-Brazilian inventor became widely known after the research of Boris Kossoy in 1980.

The German newspaper Vossische Zeitung of 25 February 1839 contained an article entitled Photographie, discussing several priority claims – especially Henry Fox Talbot’s – regarding Daguerre’s claim of invention. The article is the earliest known occurrence of the word in public print. It was signed “J.M.”, believed to have been Berlin astronomer Johann von Maedler.

The inventors Nicéphore Niépce, Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre seem not to have known or used the word “photography” but referred to their processes as “Heliography” (Niépce), “Photogenic Drawing”/”Talbotype”/”Calotype” (Talbot) and “Daguerreotype” (Daguerre).