Spy photography can be traced back to the early part of the 20th century—a time when Great Britain could still refer to itself as an empire. While it’s not surprising that governments and armed forces sought to commandeer photography for intelligence operations, it is surprising that it was nearly a century after the first photograph was taken before the technology entered the shady underworld of global espionage.
Given all the political chaos and revolutionary furor of the twentieth century, it seems unlikely that the women’s suffrage movement was the catalyst for the first applications of spy photography, but such were the times.
But as the countless spy movies of the later 20th century suggested, spies agencies around the world began developing more and more small, stealthy cameras. Many of the designs have been declassified, and provide a cool look back at the history of photography in covert operations. James Bond, eat your heart out.
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