Many of us involved today in the art of photography cannot remember a time when photography was not primarily a digital experience, with images taken on digital cameras, recorded on digital memory media, imported to a computer, and then processed with a favored suite of software. For many the ultimate output from this endeavor is an image viewed primarily, if not solely, on an electronic … Continue reading The Wet Darkroom Revisited
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.
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.
Consider, if you will, an ambitious young man entering Harvard University at age seventeen. After a year of study there, he finds that the established curriculum is stifling his creative spirit. He drops out after his freshman year and starts up his own research corporation, which transforms into a successful manufacturing concern that shakes up the marketplace with his breakout invention. This relentless spirit of innovation continues, with his company introducing a range of farsighted new products, culminating in a paradigm-shifting blockbuster new technology. While the parallels are certainly there, we are not speaking of Bill Gates and Microsoft, nor Steve Jobs and Apple, but of Edwin H. Land and Polaroid. Continue reading “A Brief History of Photography: Part 9 – Polaroid & Instant Film”