In recent years, many of us have given a great deal of thought to how mobile phones have changed photography. To say that they've made photography widely available is an understatement. They've created new (often online) communities; for example, Facebook groups, Instagram, Flickr groups. There are also Meetup groups centering around mobile phone photography, and contests for, exhibitions of, and awards for mobile phone photography.
But this is not the first time that access to photography has expanded rapidly. A recent article by Eric Shewe (which summarizes an academic journal article by Marc Olivier) describes how, in 1900, Kodak's Brownie cameras - many of which use our lovely 127 film - increased access to photography as never before.
Shewe describes how Kodak introduced the first camera with easy-to-load film in 1888, but because of its expense, photography was still inaccessible to most people. The Brownie, at 4% of the price of Kodak's prior camera, "allowed women, children and the working classes to take pictures
where, when, and how they wished." The parallel to the ubiquity of mobile phones seems clear.
The articles explain that the Brownie was named for fairy-tale sprites originating in Scottish folklore and popularized in a series of books and plays by Palmer Cox. (There is an image of an original advertisement for the Brownie, with the sprites looking at it and climbing on it, on p. 8 of Olivier's article). Olivier saw Kodak's marketing of the Brownie as an attempt "to portray snapshot photography as a phenomenon both modern and magic" (p. 2) ... sound familiar?
Olivier also describes the beginnings of "snapshot culture" and Kodak's creation of the Brownie Club of America (p. 15) - although open only to children and younger teens, perhaps a in some sense forerunner to some of our contemporary online photography websites and groups.
Thanks to Mike Maguire for alerting me to Shewe's article!