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Camera Work: Between Centuries, Across Millennia.


Ecole Beach ca 1966


Camera Work: Between Centuries, Across Millennia.

A few years back, maybe around 2000, I was reading a series of comments about the change from 1 to 2 in the first position of the year number. 2, for 2000. The 21st Century. Not only have we changed centuries, we have also changed millennia. I wanted to find out what others might be thinking, and I ran across comments attributed to the great late 19th century -early 20th composer, Gustav Mahler. Last night I went for a search for them and came up empty handed. So I’ll have to pinch hit here.

That he realized where he stood was not in doubt. That he firmly stood with one foot in the 19th and the other in the 20th was not lost on him and weighed strongly in his thoughts. Others concurred.

“There is no doubt that Mahler was musically the linchpin between the 19th and 20th centuries, at the pinnacle of the romantic era, yet setting the scene for many modern movements and styles.”

The changes wrought just over my lifetime are huge by comparison to a similar period in the 1800’s. To me, anyway, but keep in mind that in 1837, 100 years before I was born, the reference in terms of what was normal then to what was normal in 1937. Still, there is no doubt that shifts we have experienced have a greater dynamic range than those of that period.

To authentically capture the essence is not the goal here, but rather, to hint at it through looking at high points.

The birth of Photography is generally accepted to be 1839, with the introduction of the daguerreotype process by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre and concurrently with the introduction of a paper process by Henry Fox Talbot.

Earlier experiments were conducted using silver as the light sensitive material but it had a flaw. Eventually, the entire image blackened so that the image literally disappeared within a short time unless it was kept out of the light after developing. Rather counterproductive! In 1839, the astronomer John Herschel provided the answer by showing that the salt, sodium thiosulfate, called hypo, “fixed” the image, by removing only that silver which had not been developed. Photography is on the way.

For many years, this was the process, and it still is practiced today, almost 100 years later by a number of folks who, as some audio folks also believed, see it as distinct from images produced by the digital process, having value on it’s own. I concur with that, however, I also saw digital as releasing the use of the camera from the restrictions imposed by the purely chemical process.

The crossover to the 20th century in photography is marked with the introduction of color as viable by two processes, Autochrome and Photochrome. Here are two links to those processes, Paris at the turn  and NYC at the turn

The fading of analog in both audio and photography is becoming more obvious. When Photoshop was introduced, some of the terminology like dodging and burning, both darkroom terms, carried over into the digital lexicon. Newcomers to photography today, those with no experience or knowledge of the analog process, find these two uses perplexing, because they don’t do what one expects because of the major difference between analog and digital, the need for a negative in analog. I’ll just note this here with no explanation, but it does exist.

So where do we stand now, 15 years after the turn? And what do those of us, left from the analog process but not eschewing digital have to offer? It’s a question worth exploring; only hinted at here.

Probably the most significant is in the practice. With analog, we have the click of the shutter as only the beginning. Nothing happens for a considerable amount of time until the image is developed. The first shortening happened with Polaroid, but it took digital to drive the nail. The immediate result is that now, instead of producing a single image at a time, we produce them in bursts. By the hundreds. The difference is profound. Pictures are now highly disposable. And easily deleted. It’s one thing to click “Delete” another to discard the celluloid. The famous image of Monica Lewinsky which started that whole business might not have made the “Save’ but rather the “Delete’ at the time it was made by the WH photographer had it been digital.

As time goes on, I’ll amplify this distinction by looking at the work of folks like Edward Weston and the f64 Group, compared to how today’s photographers work.

The B&W Gallery on my website covers the range from the early 60’s to 2014. It’s impossible to guess the dates from the images themselves, so I’ll give you a hint: The majority of analog images are square, shot with the Hasselblad and Rolleiflex. In the Beach gallery, there are two photos of the same beach, one in 1966, the other, 2007. The 1966 image is at the top of this post.

Personally, I bring the same sense of deliberateness to my digital as I do analog. It’s instilled after all these years, honed through mastering the large format 8×10, proceeding into smaller formats but not losing track of what I learned with the big camera. I don’t see that applying to much of today’s camera work, and without actually practicing with the older processes and instruments, will not happen. Regrettable? Perhaps, but then, the human spirit seems to prevail, no matter what.
Photo ©1966 Lawrence Hudetz

Note: The link to Paris doesn’t seem to work so here is the URL.

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Lawrence Hudetz

Lawrence Hudetz