New Darkroom

After about a year of off and on work, I have finally completed my darkroom, in the corner of my basement.  The selected site is next to my woodworking shop and my wife’s pottery wheel, so separation from woodworking and pottery dust was a particular challenge. Continue reading “New Darkroom”

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A Brief History of Photography: Part 14 – Photography in Yosemite B.A. (Before Ansel)

In 2009, renowned documentary cinematographer Ken Burns released “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” to broad acclaim and helped inspire a surge in tourism and interest in the U.S. National Parks. One of the oldest and most popular of these is Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, and it has come to symbolize the American focus on the environmental and conservation movements. It can be argued that Yosemite has come to be regarded as a national beacon for preserving our nation’s national resources in large part through the influence of the photographic medium; the long reach and emotional impact of great photography captured the public’s attention and compelled government to take action to protect these national treasures. For this, we in the photography world can proudly applaud the extraordinary talents and achievements of – Carleton F. Watkins.

Figure 1:  Yosemite Valley from the
Figure 1: Yosemite Valley from the “Best General View” No. 2, 1866, by Carleton Watkins, from the J. Paul Getty Museum

Continue reading “A Brief History of Photography: Part 14 – Photography in Yosemite B.A. (Before Ansel)”

A Brief History of Photography – Part 13: The Early Story of Leica, Short Version

Leica_LogoLeica. The word alone conjures images of exquisite mechanical craftsmanship, unsurpassed optics, and the epitome of photographic quality; it is bathed in a near mystic aura in the photographic world. The almost fanatical obsession of Leica-philes for all things Leica is matched perhaps by only the extreme loyalty of Harley-Davidson lovers to that motorcycle brand. The story of how Leica reached this lofty position has been minutely dissected before by numerous more qualified devotees of the mark than this writer, so it is perhaps a bit audacious to attempt to give an abridged account of the Leica story. At the risk of riling the faithful, what follows is the early story of Leica, the short version. Continue reading “A Brief History of Photography – Part 13: The Early Story of Leica, Short Version”

A Brief History of Photography: Part 12 – Movements: Pictorialism versus Straight Photography

When George Eastman’s Kodak box camera was introduced in 1888, its popularity spawned an identity crisis of sorts within the photographic community. The widespread availability and relatively low cost of the Kodak camera and its ease of use resulted in an explosive surge in the number of new photographers. This led to the creation of millions of photographs, characterized by a small number of strong images obscured in a sea of mediocrity. While the huge “snapshot” market provided the financial strength to sustain the growing photography industry, it challenged serious amateur and professional photographers to differentiate their work from that of casual shooters. It seemed the solution could be found in two parts: through either technical excellence, or through artistic merit.

Ironically, this divided answer to photographic distinction paralleled the differences between the two most popular processes in early photography. The daguerreotype exhibited exquisitely high image sharpness, resolution, and detail, arguably capturing a more accurate rendering of the subject. In contrast, the calotype presented a softer, grainier, more ethereal image quality, perhaps encouraging a more artistically interpretive approach to the subject. The debate over these two approaches, to either document a technically accurate record of the subject, or to exercise aesthetic interpretation, has fueled contentious photographic art movements from the 1880’s to the modern day.

Continue reading “A Brief History of Photography: Part 12 – Movements: Pictorialism versus Straight Photography”