Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Still Lifes

The first showpieces of photography were still-life compositions that-ex­cept for their lack of color-were often all but indistinguishable from paintinqs. With great care their creators laid out arrays of household objects, flowers, fruit and game in eleqant. balanced ar­rangements, carefully lighted them and then recorded the image. Given the cumbersome equipment and processes then in use, such compositions were a natural starting point for photography. A still-life subject, unlike living crea­tures, did not twitch restlessly during a long exposure. It could also provide a controlled variety of interesting shapes and textures for the photographer to explore at his leisure. 

Among the abler professionals who experimented with still-life themes was Henri LeSecq, the official photogra­pher for France's Historical Monu­ments Commission. Le Secq was a master technician whose architectural photographs were so sharp in detail that an admirer remarked they were easier to study than the real thing, Yet when Le Secq turned to still life, he immediately went beyond mere record making. He had a real painter's eye for masses and a broad range of tones; he even used rough paper for his calotype prints to soften the details. The rich, glowing mixture of whites, grays and blacks thus produced was an early promise' that the camera could both record and transfigure what it saw.

Painting with Light

The Invention of photography sent shock waves through the 19th Century art world. Painters were soon vacillat­ing between writing obituaries for their own craft and announcing that the cam­era was a toy that took neither brains nor skill to operate. It was such a rev­olutionary way to produce pictures, in fact, that no one was quite sure how to use it to best advantage. 

But produce pictures it plainly did, and it naturally was turned first to imi­tation of painting; many of the early photographers simply adapted the con­ventions-and the cliches-· of the older art form to their work. Instead of taking interpretive pictures of the real world around them, as 'photographers would later learn to do, they made pictures very much as painters made paintinqs, elaborate still lifes, careful­ly posed portraits, moody landscapes, formal figure studies, allegorical scenes-- and they judged these photo­graphs by what they had grown accus­tomed to seeing in paintings. At the French Photographic Society's exhlbl­tion in 1885, the judges rejected sev­eral photographs-including one of a man cutting his corns-because their subject matter was not deemed suffi­ciently dignified to qualify as art. 

In some respects-particularly in matters of composition, lighting and tonal values-photography learned much from its apprenticeship to paint­ing., When Dr. Hugh Diamond, an English physician and amateur photogra­pher, assembled the photographic still life shown at far right, he was drawing upon such venerable motIfs as the 18th Century version in oils at right above. Happily he had a good eye and was also a good technician. His photograph contained a wealth of rich tones, tex­tures and details that any painter might envy. But this sort of slavish following of painting more often led photography into blind alleyways. Too many photog­raphers, trying to produce grand works in classical or romantic style, dressed up their models In rented armor or bag­gy togas and posed them against paint­ed ruins. In the long run such pseudo­paintings proved only that the cold eye of the camera could devastatingly ex­pose artificiality for what it Was. Most such pictures look silly today. As photography came of age, however, its practitioners began to realize that they could do more than merely du­plicate paintings. Some started to use the camera to document social condi­tions and record informal scenes of ev­eryday life; still others sought artistic expression in compositions of light and form. Henry Peach Robinson, one of England's foremost photographers, be­gan asking himself some probing ques­tions. "Why," he wondered, "should we try to make our pictures look like the result of other arts? The limitations of photography as an art have not been definitely fixed."

Monday, September 12, 2011

PHOTOGRAPHY versus PAINTING (The Victorian Pioneers)

Photography! It burst upon the sedate, self-satisfied world of Victorian Eu­rope with the force of an exploding comet. Within months of the announce­ment in 1839 of Daguerre's technique, a new profession, a new technology, a new art form and a new craze had come into being. In Paris and London, op­tical supply houses-where lenses could be purchased-and apothecaries -where chemicals were available-were suddenly besieged by photogra­phy enthusiasts eager to acquire their own cameras and prepare their own plates. City balconies blossomed with oddly-shaped boxes pointed toward the streets; hoverinq nearby, anxious neophyte photographers, watches in hand, countsdon the minutes necessary to inscribe the image of a tree, a lamppost or a building upon the sensitized plate. If the end result, as often as not, was a mere blur, no matter; the imagination 'Of the enthusiast sketched in the sharply defined images of which the daguerreotype was capable when it was placed in the hands of an expert. 

While amateurs all ever Europe were happily taking pictures, posing for pictures and collecting pictures, a few men were asking themselves what the true role of photography might be. Seme of the answers soon became ob­vious. In the field of astronomy, for example, Francols Arago, whointro­duced the daguerreotype precess to a joint meeting of the French Acade­mles of Sciences and Fine Arts in 1839, immediately saw its application to his own discipline; it was not leng before some of his colleagues were at­tempting photographs of the moon and other celestial bodies. And as a means of spreading knowledge of faraway peoples and places, photography quickly proved that it had no peer. Photographers were soon touring the Holy Land, North Africa, the Middle East and some of the more remote reach­es of Europe. On the sands of Egypt, along the Way of the Crossin Jeru­salem, in the shadow of the ParthenonIn Athens, they hauled their bulky equipment, prepared their plates and fought off swarms of flies and mos­quitoes to bring back photographic views of the ancient world's majestic ruins. Their efforts seem all the more remarkable because there was as yet no way to reproduce their work directly in books 'Or periodicals; either ln­dividual prints of the photographs had to be made and laboriously pasted in by hand, or, as was more usual, the photoqraphs were hand copied by engravers.

In one fleld, however, the role of photography was far from clear. Almost from the moment of the newrnedlum's birth, a number of photographers be­gan staking out claims in areas that had long been the preserves of painters. Portraits, landscapes, still lites, nudes and even allegorIes came to be grist for the photographer's mill. Paintlnq, which for many centuries had been pa.instakIngly perfecting the techniques of perspective and realistic detail, suddenly found its supremacy as an art form challenged by a mechanical device that could record even the most complex scene instantaneously. 

Confronted with this revolutionary invention, some painters reacted with foreboding. "Painting is dead from this day on!" the French painter Paul De­laroche was reported to have exclaimed in 1838. In one sense he was right, for painting simply as representation of reality had indeed suffered a mer­tal wound. Although a photograph could not then convey colors,its unique ability to reproduce the surface of things made it a better mirror of nature than even the most detailed painting. But in a broader sense, Delaroche could not have been more mistaken. By usurping painting's role as the por­trayer of the objecti.veworld, photography would prove a powerful stimulus to artists, setting them off on a quest for new means of expression. 

It is hardly surprising that in the early days of photography many painters, even talented ones, fought back against the mechanical monster that threat­ened their self-esteemand livelihood. Although the French painter ingres admitted that photography captured "the exactitude I would like to achieve," for public consumption he appended his siqnature, as did a num­ber of other painters, to a formal protest issued in 1862, that damned pho­tography as a soulless, mechanical process,"never resulting in works which could ever be compared with those works which are the fruits of intelligence and the study of art.” 

Photographers, in turn, resented such pretensions on the part of painters. Some of them had themselves been trained in the art academies of Europe, and they found in photography a new art form. But because of their back­grounds they continued to think of this new form in old and conventional ways. They regarded photography as another kind of painting. The oldest known daguerreotype, taken by Daguerre himself in 1837, reveals this clearly. It is' a still life self-consciously composed in the style of neoclassical painting. 

Paul Delaroche, who shortly before had prophesied the death of painting, apparently had second thoughts. Soon he could barely contain his snthu­siasm over the artistic possibilities of photography. "Daguerre's process," he wrote in 1839, "completely satisfies all the demands of art, carrying cer­tain essential principles of art to such perfection that it must become a sub­ject of observation and study even to the most accomplished painters." A French newspaper critic was even more lyrical: "What fineness in the strokes! What knowledge of chiaroscuro! What delicacy! What exquisite fin­ish! How admirably are the foreshortenings given: this is Nature itself!" 

The daguerreotype had one quality that actually intensified the tendency to confuse photography with painting; it was a one of a kind process. Each picture was a unique thing in itself and could not be copied. Like a painting, it could be carefully composed by its creator and treasured by Its owner, who could rest secure in the knowledge that he had a work of art that could not be duplicated. It was not until widespread use of a process that relied on trans­parent paper negatives from which any number of prints could be made that this sense of paintinglike uniqueness could be threatened. Nevertheless Fox Talbot, the inventor of this process, and others continued, in essence, to im­itate painting at first. In the 1840s Talbot published The Pencil of Nature, the world's first book of photographs. The edition was a small one of approx­imately 150 copies, and each photographic print was pasted onto its page by hand. For his negatives and his prints Talbot used fine writing paper that he had treated with chemicals. The texture of this paper gave his pictures softer outlines and tones than those possible with the mirrorlike surface of the da­guerreotype" which utillzed sensitized copper plates. Talbot's subjects were architectural views and stililifes taken around hls ancestral home of Lacock Abbey. These softly rendered views gave the little volume the look of an artist's sketchbook. 

However, it was not in architectural, still life or landscape photography that the camera made Its first and most successful assault upon a. preserve of palntlnq, but in the field of portraiture. The invention of photography coincided with the rIse to attluence of a large European middle class who clamored for the services of painters able to immortalize them on canvas. By the early 19th Century, the portrait of the paterfamilias, his wife and his chll­dren had become a mark of a respectable and prosperous household. But if the demand for portraits knew no bounds, neither dld the fees of the most tal­ented artists. What was needed was a quick, effIcient means of producing likenesses that on the one hand would satisfy the patron's desire for self admiration without pauperizing hIm and on the other would permit the "artist to turn a fast profit. To meet this demand for cheap portraits, painters de­vised all manner of short cuts, including sketching a likeness from the ground glass of the camera obscura, tracing the subject's profile as it ap­peared through a translucent screen (an extremely popular type of portrait called a silhouette) .and painting miniatures so small that the subjects' heads were frequently less than an inch high. During the early part of the 19th Cen­tury the art academies of' the Continent, Britain and America turned out, each year, scores of practitioners whose meager talents would never be tested beyond the simple demands of the miniature or the silhouette. 

One can imagine the dismay with which these artisans greeted the arrival of photography. Here was cornpetltlon that was practically unbeatable. For a fraction of the cost of even a cheap oil painting, the sitter could have his image preserved on plate or paper. Despite efforts to denigrate the photo­g.raph as "soulless," portrait painters found themselves fighting a losi.ng bat­tle. In a remarkably short time the silhouette became little more than a historical curiosity and the practice of miniature portraiture all but disap­peared. In 1830, for example, of the 1,278 paintings exhibited at Britain's Royal Academy of Arts, about 300 were miniatures; three decades later, few­er than 70 portraits of this type were displayed. During the interval, of course, photography had been invented and many portrait painters were driven ei­ther into penury or into the practice of the despised new medium itself. 

Much of the new photographic portraiture was hardly of a higher order than what it replaced. The comparative simplicity of photography lured hun­dreds of untrained and unimaginative people, looking for a way to get rich quick, to set up shop and churn out their wares by the score each day. Advances in equipment and techniques reduced exposure times for portraits from 15 or 20 minutes to less than a minute, adding to the comfort of the sit­ters and the profits of studio owners. In 1849, a mere decade after the an­nouncement of photography's birth, some 100,000 daguerreotype portraits were taken in the city of Paris alone. In London, the boom in portrait pho­tography was even more astounding. Between 1851 and 1857 the number of portrait studios in that city jumped from about a dozen to more than 150. Not untypical was the studio of one Mr. Lorenzo Henry Russell, who styled him­self, among other things, a professor of music, a mesmerist and a taxidermist as well as a photographer. For Mr. Russell, the ideal patron presumably was one who could be lulled by soft music, hypnotized by a piercing stare, stuffed torthe mantelpiece and then photographed for posterity-all at a modest time payment rate of one shilling a week. 

Portrait studios of Russell's day varied from outlandishly ornate salons to sparsely furnished photo factories. Many studios had on hand scores of painted backdrops and pasteboard props, enabling the customer to choose the setting that best expressed his character, his ambitions or his dreams. Portrait photographers, following the lead of portrait painters, tailored these props to their sitters' achievements: an actress might be shown standing be­fore Greek masks for comedy and tragedy; a musician might hold a lute. As often as not the props spoke of the sitter's fantasies rather than his accom­plishments; a timid man could pose as an intrepid hunter stalking his prey, a merchant as a scholar surrounded by books and scientific instruments. 

American portrait photographers were particularly adept at luring cus­tomers with lavish displays. One journalist compared their establishments with "the enchanted habitations which the Orientals erect for their fabulous heroes. Marble, carved in columns ... [adorns] the walls .... Here are gilded cages with birds from every clime, warbling amidst exotic plants whose flowers perfume the air .... Surrounded thus, how is it possible to hes­itate at the cost of a portrait?" In such portrait palaces the cost might come high-as much as $15 or $20. For those who could not afford the fee there was always a quick-picture emporium around the corner. Here the customer stood in line to buy a ticket representing a prepaid exposure. Then he waited his turn to sit before the camera. As each new sitter entered the curtained cubicle, the cameraman reached into a hole in the wall where a technician handed him a freshly coated plate. After the operator had made the expo­sure, he passed the plate through a hole in another wall, beyond which a technician completed the work as the cameraman went on to another cus­tomer. Art may have been the last thing the owners of such studios worried about, but their 25-cent prints were often as good as-and frequently more straightforward than-the fancier products of the more expensive salons. 

By the time portrait studios were in full swing in the 1850s, several im­portant technological advances had eased the lot of both the photographer and his patrons. Most important was the fact that retouching had become a standard practice, enabling photographers to satisfy the vanity of the most self-admiring patrons. The Photographic News of London put the case for re­touching quite baldly in 1859: "The [retoucher] may correct with his brush defects which, if allowed to remain, spoil any picture. For instance, where a head is so irregular in form as to become unsightly, soften those features which are the most strikingly deformed, and reduce the head to a greater semblance of beauty. Try to discover what good points there are-for all heads have some good points-and give these their full value." The mass of photographers followed such instructions with enthusiasm. What resulted were cosmetic images that revealed little of the character of the sitter. 

There were some portrait photographers who refused to retouch and oth­ers who limited retouching to backgrounds; among them were some of the most talented men of their time. The earliest of the master portraitists were the Scottish photographers David O. Hill and Robert Adamson. Hill, a painter of some talent, helped to found the Royal Scottish Academy. In 1843 he joined forces with Adamson, a young chemist who had taken up photogra­phy. It was Hill's intention to make photographic portrait studies in prepa­ration for a huge group painting he was planning to immortalize some 470 Scottish clergymen and laymen. The two men worked in the calotype proc­ess, which Hill characterized as superior to the daguerreotype precisely because of its imperfections. "The rough surface, and unequal texture throughout of the paper," wrote Hill, "is the main cause of the calotype fail­ing in details, before the process of Daguerreotype-and this is the very life of it. [Calotypes] look like the imperfect work of a man-and not the much di­minished perfect work of God." 

In their photographs Hill and Adamson showed a deep sensitivity to their subjects' characters that is all the more remarkable because of the difficulties they had to overcome. They worked with bulky equipment, slow lenses and light-sensitized papers that required exposures in full sunlight of one or two minutes. Nevertheless, the two photographers managed to pose and direct their subjects in such a way as to produce portraits that have life and spontaneity. In their study of Hugh Miller, for example, they captured the flinty nature of the Scottish character and the strength and determination of the Scottish will in a way that few photographers could match even today.

When Hill completed his camera studies, he returned to brush and palette. 
After 23 years of labor, most of it in his spare time, he finished the group por­trait-a work that can only be ranked as a giant mediocrity. It is ironic that Hill, who always believed that photography was merely a tool for the painter, found lasting fame for his practIce of the "lesser art," while as a painter his name is all but forgotten.

Another artist who made his mark as a master portrait photographer was the Frenchman Gaspard Felix Tournachon, known to hls contemporaries -and to history-by his adopted name of Nadar. Born in Paris in 1820, Na­dar studied medicine and then abandoned it in favor of a career as a pro­tesslonal cari.caturist. As a young man his ambItion was to publish carica­tures of every prominent Parisian, and like Hill he turned to photography to record the faces he wished to draw. By 1853, however, Nadar had become so enthusiastic about the artistic possibilities of photography that he all but gave up the pen In favor of the camera and opened his own photographic studio. To this studio flocked the great and near-great, among them the writ ... ers Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas and musicians like Rossini, Berlioz, Wagner and Liszt. Some came to Nadar because of hls reputation for ex­cellence in portrait work, others merely because it was the stylish thing to do. In any case,few who had their portraits taken by the great man himself -rather than by one of his assistants, to whom the lesser celebrities were guided-ever had reason to be disappointed .. Unlike many portrait photog­raphers of the period, Nadar avoided complicated props like pasteboard col­umns and pretentious lighting. effects in which the subject's head might be haloed by sun streaming into the studio. By the standards of Victorian Eu­rope, Nader's style was simplicity itself, and because as a celebrity in his own right he knew most of the people who came before his camera, he was able to draw from them expressions and poses that are at once relaxed and compelling.

Through the work of Nadar, hlstorlans have gained penetrating insights into the haute monde of the Second Empire and Third RepubUc.In 1859 a French journalist summed up his contribution: "All the artistic, dramatic, po­litical galaxy-in a word the intelUgentsia-of Paris has passed through his studio. The series of portraits that he exhibits is the Pantheon of our generation. Dau.mier meditates. Guizot stands, his hand in his Waistcoat,as severe and cold as if he were waiting for silence in the court before launching into a thundering rebuttal-Co rot smiles as someone asks him why doesn't he finish his landscapes .... The photographer has the right to be called an artist."

At about the same time Nadar was at work in Paris, two amateurs were es­tablishing themselves as talented portraitists in England. One was Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland; the other, a true master of the art, was a gentlewoman named Julia Margaret Cameron. Not surprisingly, Carroll excelled in the portraiture of children. His natural sympathy for them and their problems and his delight in telling them stories undoubtedly helped him put his subjects at ease during the long ex­posures his large-plate camera required. Like most Victorian photogra­phers, Carroll sought prettiness of detail and soulful expressions. He was, however, no mere imitator of established conventions, and time and time again he ignored the "artistic" modes of his era to produce photographs that are at once romantic and authentic. Alice P. Liddell, the prototype for the Alice of Alice in Wonderland, is revealed deep in thought, her head resting in profile against the back of her chair. It is superb characterization, and one can easily imagine how this little girl with the pensive look could in­spire Carroll to flights of literary fancy

Although Carroll was an amateur in the sense that photography was only one of his interests, Julia Margaret Cameron was such only in her lack of in­terest in selling her pictures. Once she discovered photography, it became the passion of her life. Generally speaking, her works fall into two catego­ries: straight portraiture of superb quality, in which she used the camera to reveal the essential character of her subjects; and illustrative photography, in which the subjects are dressed in the garb of literary or historical figures. The illustrative photographs were very much in tune with Victorian taste. It is her portraits that have brilliantly survived the test of time.

Julia Cameron, the daughter of one British colonial official and the wife of another, was born in India in 1815. After her marriage in 1838 to a man 20 years her senior, she spent another 10 years in India before her husband re­tired from government service, eventually settling at Freshwater, on the Isle of Wight. Her romance with photography did not begin until she was 48 years old, and then almost accidentally. One of her grown children gave her a cam­era, thinking this harmless diversion might ease the boredom apt to weigh down a lady of leisure and advancing years. If she had been bored, Julia Cameron never was again. A woman of immense determination, comfortable means and good social connections, she brought to photography,all the en­thusiasm and zeal of a religious convert. She even spoke of her work in de­votional terms. Referring to her portraits of Britain's literary and artistic elite,she once wrote: "When I have had such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavored to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The pho­tograph thus taken has almost the embodiment of a prayer."

While the good lady regarded her photography with reverence" she treat­ed the distinguished visitors at her home more like slaves. No man was too famous, no woman too, frail to be spared Mrs. Cameron's bul.lying until he or she agreed to sit for a portrait. Among those who resisted successfully was the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi,who, while visiting Mrs. Cam­eron's neighbor and friend Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was accosted by the lady in Tennyson's garden. Not knowing who this interloper was, he simply told her to be gone.

If resisting Mrs. Cameron's plans was painful, sitting for her could be tor­ture. A perfectionist, she would take exposure atter exposure, all the while snapping orders at her subjects. Crown Prince Fredertck of Prussia, whose word was law within his own domains, apparently made the mistake of low­ering his glance while sitting for a portrait. As if addressing a careless child, Julia Cameron commanded, "Big eyes! Big eyes!"

Matters were not eased by Mrs. Cameron's technique. Her beli·ef in sub­dued light and large photographic plates, and her use of long lenses for close-ups (a technique in which she specialized), necessitated exposures that often lasted for several minutes. After each exposure she would disap­pear into her darkroom to prepare another plate, leaving ·her sitter with firm orders not to move a muscle while she was gone. Even chance acquaint­ances, if their faces intrigued Julia Cameron, stood little hope of escape. One young lady, asked to pose in the manner of ancient royalty, remembered the occasion years later in an article for a British photographic journal. "The studio ... was very untidy," she reminisced, "and very uncomfortable. Mrs. Cameron put a crown on my head and posed me as the heroic queen. This was somewhat tedious, but not half so bad as the exposure. Mrs. Cameron warned me before it commenced that it would take a long time, adding, with a sort of half groan, that it was the sale difficulty she had to contend with in working with large plates. · . · The exposure began. A minute went over and 

I felt as if I must scream; another minute, and the sensation was as if my eyes were coming out of my head; a third, and the back of my neck appeared to be afflicted with palsy; a fourth, and the crown, which was too large, began to slip down my forehead; a fifth-but here I utterly broke down, for Mr. Cam­eron, who was very aged, and had unconquerable fits of hilarity which al­ways came in the wrong places, began to laugh audibly, and this was too much for my self-possession, and I was obliged to join the dear old gen­tleman. When Mrs. Cameron. · · bore off the gigantic dark slide with there whose purpose was to endow the musings of the imagination with the mantle of reality. His colleagues and the general public alike eagerly awaited each new photographic offering from the master's studio, and devoured the' truth that came from the master's pen. In his Pictorial Effect in Photography Robinson told his admirers quite straightforwardly: "Any dodge, trick and conjuration of any kind is open to the photographer's use .... It is his im­perative duty to avoid the mean, the bare and the ugly, and to aim to elevate his subject, to avoid awkward forms and to correct the unpicturesque .... " Such advice, coming from so famous a photographer, encouraged others to look more than ever to painting for their inspiration rather than to the unique ability of photography to represent the real world.

One who needed no encouragement from Robinson or anyone else was Oscar G. Rejlander, a Swede who moved to England in the 18405 in hopes of establishing his reputation as a portrait painter. As a means toward this end, he took up photography. A resourceful and innovative man-some of his pic­tures bring to mind Surrealist photographs of the 1920s-Rejlander firmly bel'ieved that photography could beat painting at its own game. Around 1856 he produced some pictorial studies inspired by Raphael's Sistine Madonna, in one of which he had little children fill the role of cherubs. Encouraged by generally favorable criticism, he then conceived of what must be one of the greatest oddities in the history of photography-an exceptionally large com­position, measuring 16 by 31 inches, entitled The Two Ways of Life. The allegorical picture, which bears some resemblance to story­telling canvases of the Italian Renaissance, was intended by Rejlander to be a sta.rtling demonstration of the photograph's worth as a full-scale study model on which painters could base their own works .. However, when it was exhibited at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857 it was viewed as a work of art in Its own right. The picture shows two youths in Roman garb being introduced to the adult world by their bearded teacher. One youth turns his eyes toward modestly draped figures representing such virtues as Religion, Good Works, Industry and Knowledge, while the other clearly cannot wait to fling himself into the arms of seminude temptresses who sym­bolize Licentiousness, Wine, Gambling and other vlces. It was a very crowd­ed "canvas," and to produce it Rejlander hired a band of itinerant actors and posed them in small groups for separate photographs. Then, after setting up and photographing an elaborate pseudo-Roman backdrop, he carefully pieced together the 30 negatives to produce the final print.

Although the picture is almost ludicrous in its heavy-handed message, it greatly appealed to the Victorians' sense of morality, and the fact that it was a photograph rather than a painting appealed even more to their newfound love of technology. Many objected to the nudity in the picture, but The Two Ways of Life nevertheless received the ultimate seal of approval: Queen Victoria herself, despite her well-known parsimony, considered 10 guineas a fair enough price to pay for so morally elevating a picture and bought it as a present for her consort, Prince Albert.

In the more fanciful works of Rejlander and Robinson, photography that was derivative of Victorian painting began to burn itself out. Other photog­raphers continued to rake around in the coals, attempting to rekindle their craft in the fire. By the 1880s, however, a new movement was coming to the fore, led by an ex-medical student, Peter Henry Emerson, an Anglo-Amer­ican whose work would influence photographers in both England and the United States. Emerson was the first to campaign against the stand that "art" photographers had taken. He realized that imitation paintings did not make great photographs, and saw that true photographic art was to be created only by exploitation of the camera's inherent potential: its unique ability to capture in a direct way the essence of the real world. Scorning the stili-pop­ular pictorial school, in article after article he thundered against such prac­tices as composite printing, costumed models, painted backdrops and sentimentalized views of daily life. A man of strong opinions, with language to match, Emerson characterized Robinson's Pictorial Effect in Photography as "the quintessence of literary fallacies and art anachronisms."

Having thus disposed of prevailing tastes, Emerson laid down his own strictures for camera work: simplicity of equipment; no "faking" by lighting, posing, costumes or props; free composition, unfettered by classical formu­lae ("each picture requires a special composition and every artist treats each picture originally"); complete avoidance of retouching ("the process by which a good, bad or indifferent photograph is converted into a bad draw­ing or painting"). Emerson maintained that the ingredients for deeply mov­ing, esthetically satisfying pictures were to be found in the lives and the work of common people, in photographs taken not in the studio among theatrical props, but in the farms and fields of Britain. Inhis book Naturalistic Pho­tography, published in 1889, Emerson called for a photographic renaissance in which the contrived and artificial would be replaced by the true and real. Several books of his photographs-containing pictures taken in the Norfolk Broads, a swampy area of England where the author had a houseboat-am­ply proved his point. Pictures like the one of Norfolk cottages , which examined the world of English country folk, remain to this day classics of their kind.

While Emerson strongly recommended spontaneity in terms of subject matter he was anything but casual on the subject of photographic technique. In the matter of focusing, in particular, he attempted to apply hard-and-fast scientific principles so that the photograph would reproduce a scene as he believed the human eye saw it: sharp at the point of focus, fuzzy at the pe­riphery. Emerson's concentration on technique, it turned out, led him astray. He came to think that every aspect of picture making could be reduced to a set of technical principles and controls-san idea that also appealed to some painters of his time. But when he found there were certain aspects that he could not control to his satisfaction, he entered a period of frustration. Frus­tration led to despair and despair finally led to denunciation-not just of the principles, but of photography itself. Where but a few years before he was predicting that the challenge of photography would cause the ultimate de­mise of painting, in 1891 he denounced his own medium as "the lowest of all arts." There was undoubtedly an element of pique in Emerson's renuncia­tion. A volatile and vain man, he could not abide the thought that others, working in the new school of natural realism, were now leading the way to­ward a new esthetic of photography. Yet he could not destroy what he had already accomplished. Through his earlier writings and photographs, Emerson had greatly influenced a new generation of photographers. He had proclaimed photography as an art in its own right, independent of painting; an art with its own needs, its own laws and its own triumphs. This was to be the art of truth, not the stylized and "ennobling" truth of the pictorialists, but the truth of man and nature, imperfect but real. 

The Firts Candid Camera

Not until the 1920s did photographers get a camera that realized the promise of Talbot's mousetraps a handy, unobtrusive instrument able to take pic­tures easiIy in dim Iight. The first of these candid cameras to be followed soon by the Leica was the Ermanox, marketed under the slogan, "What you see, you can photograph" 

In the hands of an expert like Erich Sal­omon, this claim was no ex­aggeration. Salomon often dressed in formal clothes to crash diplomatic gatherings, where his camera enabled him to record Europe's powerful at work. In tribute to him, the French statesman Briand once remarked "There are just three things necessary for a .. · conference: a few Foreign Secretaries, a table and Salomon.”

Ermanox first revealed the potential of candid photography. It used 2 x 3-inch glass plates that had to be loaded one at a time. But its small size made practical a lens so fast-f/2-that indoor shots could be snapped without special lighting, enabling Erich Salomon to catch such intimate views as the scene be/ow of e summit meeting on Franco-German problems.

The Newspaperman's Standby

Jacques-Henri Lartigue : A Delage Racer at the Grand Prix, 1912
Early In the 20th Century, the public was introduced to a new dimension in journalism: action news pictures made with the high-speed, single-lens reflex camera. The first real "press" camera, it was portable, its fast lens and focal­plane shutter could freeze even a speedinq car, it tocusedeas­ily through the taking lens, and its large picture size allowed the high-quality prints needed for engraving. For nearly half a century many of the most mem­orable news photographs were taken with the German lCA or its near­twin, the American Graflex. 

The versatility of the big reflex made it equally popular with photographers who were not journalists. It capitalized on odd distortions in the pictures caused by the focal-plane shutter. In the photograph at rig,ht by J.H. Lar­tigue, the impression of speed is con­veyed by the apparent forward lean of the car's wheel and the backward lean of the spectators. Both effects are due to the shutter, a fast-moving slit that moves vertically across the film, exposing different parts of it at dif­ferent instants in time. Thus, in taking a picture of a fast-moving car, the bottom of the wheel will be photographed at one point, but when the slit in the shut­ter reaches the top of the wheel, the whole car will have moved to the right, so that the wheel comes out looking eggshaped. In taking this picture lar­tigue had to move his camera to keep pace with the car's movement This,in turn, gave the spectators their odd ap­pearance, for when the shutter's slit passed across their legs the camera was in one position, but by the time it exposed their heads the camera and film had moved to the right.

While looking down into the tall, light-shielding hood of an lCA like this one, the French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue took the picture shown at right in 1912. The certiere worked much like modern 35mm single-lens reflexes but used 4 x 5 inch glass plates and was fitted with an f /4.5 lens, very fast for its day. Its distorted freezing of motion, so obvious in the racing car oicture, ties over t.he decades become an ittustretors' convention; today an artist drawing a movinq object may deliberately make it lean forward to convey an impression of speed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bird's-Eye Views from a Rocket

As early as the 1860’s photographers had. gone up In balloons to make de­tailed records of cities, landscapes and battlefronts; small cameras had also been attached with sorne success to high-flying kites and even to the breasts of trained pigeons. 

By 1903 a still more startling form of aerial photography was in the offing. In that year a German engineer, Alfred Maul,patented a rocket camera that caught the interest of the Kaiser's gen­erals for its potential usefulness in mil­itary reconnaissance. After nine years of work and many experimental models Maul successfully launched the device shown at right. The camera,shot sky­ward by a rocket and returned to earth by parachute, made a single exposure automatically as it reached the apex of' its flight. To test its durability in war­fare, soldiers were ordered to fire at the descendinq camera to see if they could effectively knock it out. Although Maul's invention survived the test and produced good pictures, it was never used in combat: Airplanes and dirigibles, both invented in the early 1900’s, provided superior camera platforms. Not until after World War II did rocket­borne cameras come into their own as superb instruments for space studies.
At a rifle range near Dresden, German soldiers prepare a rocket camera and its launching tower for a test-firing in 1912.

With the rocket in place, all is ready for the launch, and the camera blasts off in a billow of smoke.

When the rocket burned out at 2,600 feet the camera made a single exposure, like the one shown above, and floated back to earth. 

Propellant Chamber

Camera Compartment

Nose Cone

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Gun to Shoot Action

        In the late 1870s, a French professor of physioloqy and 'natural history, Etienne Jules, Marey, made the first step, toward capturinq all of an action instead of Just treezinq part of it. Long interested 'in analyzinq the ways in which animals move, he turned to' photoqraphy In the hope that he could break down their motions into sequences,each step of which could be studied individually. By 1882 Marey had designed a gun camera whose trigger set in motion a clockwork mechanism, the clockwork turned a sensitized plate on which 12 postage-stamp-size pictures were made in a second. The exposure for each was very brief 1 /720 second. In 1887, Marey invented a "chronophoto­graphic" camera "that took sequence pictures on a roll of sensitized paper; three years later he" replaced the paper, with transparent celluloid film on which he was able to record as many as 60 in­dividual exposures per second. This in­strument foreshadowed the modern motion picture camera.

          Marey's gun camera took the 12 tiny pictures at lett ot a bird in flight. The camera hada lens in its barrel and a shutter at the front of its breech. A.d.tum-shape,dmagazine, shown detached above the gun, held a load of 25 circular plates, each with a dozen picture-taking areas around its rim. To load the camera, the drum was placed on tooot the breech and a slot was openedso that the first plate tell into a chamber oirecttv behind the shutter. The user closed the slot, removed the drum magazine, then sighted on his subject end squeezed the trigger to get his 12 rapid-fires ho ts.The drum was then remounted and the gun turned upside down so thet the plate dropped into a storage compartment for later developing.

Marey's roll-film sequence camera (shown in a top view) took photographs in a horizontal strip like the one above. The film, driven by a hand crank, moved from a storage spool to the focal plane in the middle of the compartment, where it stopped for exposure, and then was wound on a take-up spool. The shutter, also operated by the crank,made individual exposures of 1/100 second, fast enough to avoid blur in pictures of a flying duck.