Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Say Cheese!

I did a post the other day on the changes in the last hundred years on the way music has changed in our lives.

At the same time I was thinking about the ways that photography has changed as well.

Photography was initially developed almost 200 years ago. The process of using light to cause a chemical reaction and create an image was a startling revelation. History could now be documented in real time. As long as history would stand still and had plenty of light thrown on it.

50 years later Matthew Brady would do just that, making hundreds of images of the carnage on Civil War battlefields.

The process has changed sometimes; the chemicals used or the base material. Tintypes are just that- an image created chemically on a metal plate, and glass plate negatives were just a chemical wash on a glass plate, subject to the hazards as any piece of glass is. The modern negative film was the development that put a camera in the hands of the common man. George Eastman was the Henry Ford of photography; Ford put the common man on the road with his Model-T, and Eastman allowed him to photograph the trip.

The images were still; very still. We are so used to micro-second exposure times, but images in the old days took minutes to expose, which is why most old pictures are stiffly posed portraits.

The Kodak Brownie had those same issues; slow film speeds, no adjustable aperture, no flash. Groups didn't gather on the front porch for their health; they needed the light to make sure the picture turned out.

And then once the roll was full, the whole camera was sent off to Kodak, returned a few weeks later with your pictures and a fresh roll of film inside, all set for 8 more shots. And that's when you found out that Aunt Martha had moved during the Easter family portrait.

Cameras became more complex, and those cameras eventually made their way into the hands of the amateurs. Although amateur in this case just meant took pictures for fun, not profit. Film speed had to be set, f-stop, depth of field and focus all had to be right, and heaven help you with color film!

And you had to wait a week to find out if that once-in-a-lifetime shot had turned out.

Unless you did your own developing; tubs of caustic chemicals and very specific timings. Old chemicals, to long or too short in one bath or the other and your negatives or your pictures were ruined.

And then came the Kodak Instamatic with it's Flash Cubes. Point and shoot, inside or out, a (fairly) perfect shot every time. But film and developing cost money; about 6 bucks all told for 24 shots. And you had to wait to see the picture.

Unless you had a Polaroid. Take the shot, catch the picture as it spit out the bottom of the camera, keep it warm in your armpit for a minute and voila! Pictures! Want two copies? Take two pictures. At about 50 cents each.

Kodak and Polaroid were getting quietly rich.

Then came the image sensor; developed by an employee at Kodak, of all places, in 1975. It took 20 years, but once the sensors became cheap everybody wanted one. No film; no developing; no wait pictures. Snap one? Hell no; snap 50. Things not worthy of documenting 10 years ago now became fodder for a battery of images.

And just when the digital cameras thought they had a monopoly on the market, BAM! The iPhone, and now every phone has become a pocket photo studio.

My grandfather took pictures of me and his other grandkids with an Argus 35mm; fully manual, it took some great pictures, once you knew how to operate it, a skill I had just about mastered when I got my first point and shoot digital 10 years ago.

Now my son sees his boys in a cute pose, pulls out his phone, snaps off a pic or two, and texts them to me on my phone.

I think his Great-grandpa would be proud. 

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