Before The Camera
Before the dawn of the selfie stick, before the first time somebody used a flash to blind their friend, before a guy failed at balancing a camera on a stick and decided to invent the tripod, before all of that happened - there was the Camera Obscura.
It all came from an interesting optical effect someone discovered while standing in a dark room and punching holes in walls. A small hole in a dark room projected the outside world on the opposite wall, inside the room.
[[Basic diagram of it]]
Aristotle even knew of the effect, he observed the shape of a partially eclisped sun being projected on the ground, through "small openinings between the leaves of a plane tree"! Aristotle was pondering why the sun made a circular image after travelling through a square hole. The circle was a projection of the sun. Super neat, right?
For more there, read Aristotle, Problems, Book XV.1
Later, Euclid demonstrated the technique as proof that light travels in straight lines. Euclid was a hugely influential mathemetician who wrote the definitive textbook on Geometry.2
The Camera Obsc-whatnow?
The 'Camera Obscura' is a simple device. It is a box, or a room. Or most any light proof space. It has a small hole in one side. This hole lets in light in such a way that it projects an image on the wall opposite of the hole. A projection of the outside world - flipped 180 degrees!
[[Diagram of Camera Obscura]]
In fact, all cameras take upside down photos! Digital cameras flip their image back, because it would be silly not to! Some camera obscura's use mirrors to flip the image right-side up.
The principles of Camera Obscura have been known since, like, forever ago. That's a technical statement. It was a neat trick people knew about, like van-de-graff generators. Artists could stand in dark rooms, place paper over the wall, and trace over their projection. In other words, they cheat.
Photography was born when this technique was combined with advancements and experiments in chemistry. Importantly, the invention of something that can record and save the image projected in a camera obscura. The history of photography is long and complicated, we'll get into it more later.
Cheating At Painting
[[Open Source Realism Painting]]
I mean, no! It's not cheating! Because if that were cheating, then photography would just be cheating at painting!
Okay, fine. It might be cheating at painting.
Of course, it's not like photography is interesting because we love looking at bowls of fruit - photography is great precisely because it is 'cheating'. Cameras are damn good at creating images of real life. Cameras can go where no painter would have time to set up, like at the end of a selfie stick. What they capture actually happened! Don't go judging a photograph on how good of a painting it would make. That's stupid. Photographs precisely capture real life, they can bring us to war zones, they can show us reality accross great distances, and they can give us context about candid historical moments that no posed portrait painting of a president ever could! Even if photography is cheating-at-painting, it's still awesome!
[[Surrealist painting 'what if this is a photo' or painting of a photographer taking a photo]]
1 *Note: Reading Aristotle is unlikely to help you learn photography. At least, It didn't for me.
2 Note: Reading a modern translation of Euclid is likely to help you with Mathematics and Geometry, and thus may help you become a better photographer. I would not recommend this approach.