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From its invention in 1839 to today’s digital formats, photography has been an important means for understanding changes in society. Early daguerreotypes and cheaper tintypes connected Americans capturing far-away places, people, and historic events. As America’s population expanded west, cheaper photographic processes helped people exchange family memories and experience technological change. Photographers recorded official histories and work discoveries as well as informal, private moments.

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” – Dorothea Lange, 1936