'History of Photography' Category

Kodak and Metadata

Thanks to Edward Snowden, everyone with a television, radio, Internet connection or newspaper subscription has heard of metadata.  Unfortunately, the innocuous metadata has received a bad rap when really the problem has been the questionable collection and storing of metadata.  Metadata or “data about data” has been around long before the term was coined in the late 60’s.  It may surprise readers to learn that Kodak was involved with data preservation 100 years ago.

In 1914 Kodak released their line of autographic film and cameras.  The roll film, invented by Henry Jacques Gaisman, had a thin piece of carbon paper backing that allowed the photographer to write a note directly on the film.  This note would be included between the images on the negative and violà, early metadata.  George Eastman saw the potential with the film and bought the invention for $300,000 (over $7 million today).  Kodak advertised it as “the greatest photographic advance in twenty years”.  The autographic cameras came with a metal stylus and a special camera back that included a small door that would be opened to write the note or date.  One year later, Kodak released upgraded camera backs with little doors for existing cameras that would allow them to use the new film (nearly a century before Apple would do the same).  The line was heavily advertised and many cameras with different price points were introduced.  Unfortunately, the idea never took off and the line was discontinued in 1932.  One of the reasons for this still rings true – users kept loosing the stylus!

Not surprisingly, I’ve wanted one of these cameras for my collection and recently got my hands on one.  It’s a 1a Autographic Kodak Series III, circa 1924 which originally sold for $32 (over $400 today) and it’s beautiful!  The bellows are still intact and the shutter still works.  It’s a lovely example of Art Deco design – most importantly – it has the original stylus!

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Ansel Adams and Photoshop

Ansel Adams said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it”.  I’ve always loved that quote, especially in the digital age.  There have always been two elements to film photography:  recording the image and developing the photo.   Adams is the most widely known American photographer because he was a master at both. After scouting his location and waiting for the right conditions to “take” the photograph, he would spend days manipulating a negative to “make” the photograph (all the while taking detailed notes so the print could be precisely duplicated).  He used two tools at his disposal, dodging (lightening) and burning (darkening) perhaps better than anyone.

Dodge and Burn are darkroom methods used to either increase or decrease exposure in a print.  With them you can lighten or darken specific areas to improve tonal quality and contrast or to highlight a certain area to make it a focal point.  These tried and true methods were incorporated in the original version of Photoshop in 1990 and remain in the current toolbars of both CS and Elements (and every other editing program out there).  The Dodge tool is represented by a lollipop-type icon and the Burn tool uses a closed hand as its icon.  Unlike other enhancements in Photoshop which manipulate the entire image, these two tools allow precision changes.  If you have never used them, I strongly urge you to give them a try.  There are more settings than some of the easier tools, but don’t let that throw you.  After you bring in an image, make a duplicate layer to work on.  Both tools allow you to select a brush size, the amount of exposure change (start out with a low number) and the affected range (highlights, midtones or shadows).  Experiment with all settings to see how they work. You’ll soon see their value.

Adams did not live to see digital photography or Photoshop, but I think he would have embraced them. While not an excuse to be a lazy photographer (more about that next time), Photoshop’s tools are a mean to an end. That end, of course, is making a better photograph.

The face in the first photo is overexposed, see how the dodge tool improved it.

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You Press the Button …

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In 1888, George Eastman introduced the Kodak camera and for the first time, photographs could be taken by amateurs.  His original advertising slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” was not only catchy, it was completely accurate.  Indeed, there was very little this new breed of photographers could do other than press the shutter and advance the film by turning a key.  This included looking through a viewfinder; the original Kodak did not have one (but it did provide a guide to give you an idea of the coverage area). To take a photo, one would hold the camera at waist level, slightly against the abdomen for steadiness and click.  The camera was loaded with enough film for 100 photos (assuming that you did not overwind).  At the end of a roll, you sent the camera back to have the 2 ½ “ round photos developed and the camera reloaded with film.

Despite the $25 price tag (a hefty amount in 1888), the Kodak was a success. President Grover Cleveland owned one, although he reportedly did not advance the film on his first try and took 100 photos on one exposure!  The Kodak camera was also making an impact on society. In comments that echo the concerns of today’s online postings, The Hartford Courant lamented the fact that an average person cannot “indulge in any hilariousness” without the fear of photos surfacing in his Sunday school class.

Eastman realized the limitations of a $25 camera and in 1900 introduced the first Brownie camera.  Its cardboard frame and simple lens lowered the cost to an affordable $1 (plus 15¢ for film).  Snapshot photography was born and the Brownie camera line remained popular until its end in 1970.  Many photographers, including Ansel Adams, recall that a Brownie was their first camera. Adams received his from his parents on his first trip to Yosemite.

Over the years, Kodak has released 100’s of different cameras and models ranging from the über-popular (the Instamatic and the Pocket Instamatic) to the never should have been made (the Disc cameras). The Eastman Kodak Co. is expected to emerge from bankruptcy protection this summer.  It will not be the company it once was and probably will not sell cameras or film (it has already sold many of its patents).  It may even go the way of Polaroid and become only an administrative shell with a famous name.  Of course, this would be a shame, but what a name! Few companies have lasted as long and have had the impact of Kodak.  Ironically, the company responsible for adding “A Kodak Moment” to the lexicon did not realize that they were really selling memories, not film, cameras or printers.

Top Ten Cameras of the Recent Past

Perhaps it’s nostalgia, or the plethora of top ten lists this time of year, or the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings of Eastman Kodak.  Regardless of the reason, I have decided to compile my own top ten list of the most iconic cameras of the second half of the last century.

#10 – Brownie Starflash, 1957, $8.50 org. price. The Brownie line was already popular with the average photographer.  Starflash was the first Kodak camera with a built-in flash (it used single use flash bulbs).  An estimated 10 million were sold.starflash

#9 – Nikon F, 1959, $330 org. price. This wasn’t Nikon’s first 35mm, but it is the one that made Nikon a name.  This hard-to-destroy camera soon became “the” camera of photojournalists of the 60’s and 70’s.  Aspects of this camera survive in today’s Nikon DSLRs.nikon

#8 –Kodak  Instamatic 100, 1963, $16 org. price.  This fixed focus, simple camera changed the snapshot industry.  The Instamatic line stayed in production for more than 20 years and is the reason that everyone over 40 knows what 126 film and flash cubes are.Kodak-Instamatic-100

#7 – Kodak Pocket Instamatic 20, 1972, $28 org. price.  Created to use their new line of 110 film, the Pocket Instamatic could (as the name suggests), fit in your pocket.  Never as successful as the original Instamatic, later models did introduce us to the flash bar.  Six years later, Kodak combined the two into the Ektralite line that included a built-in electronic flash.pocket

#6 – Polaroid Land Camera SX-70, 1972, $180 org. price. Edwin Land introduced us to the Polaroid in 1948, but this model was the first to use the new film that developed before your eyes.  The last camera was produced in 2007, but for 35 years all of the models used the same type of film and provided us with a sound that is immediately recognizable.polaroid_land

#5 – Canon AE-1, 1976, $357, org. price.  Forty years after the release of their first 35mm camera, Canon released the first camera with an internal computer. The CPU controlled exposure and the self-timer and was simple by today’s terms, but it was revolutionary in its time.  It is still a great camera and fairly easy to find (over 5 million were sold).CanonAE1Pgrm-Joe

#4 – Kodak Disc 4000, 1982, $68 org. price. Everything on this camera was automatic (the film advance, the focus, the flash), but the relatively expensive film produced inferior photos.  The development of fully automatic, snapshot cameras that used the far superior 35mm film meant the end of the disc cameras in less than five years.Kodak_Disc_4000

#3 – Minolta Maxxum 7000, 1985, $965 org. price. Despite its hefty price tag, Maxxum 7000 modernized the 35 mm SLR with an autofocus that really worked.  Others had tried, but Minolta succeeded and all of its 18 interchangeable lenses focused quickly.  The Maxxum soon became the target for competitors and was eventually surpassed, but still has its spot in history.Minolta_Maxxum_AF_7000

#2 – Fuji One Time Use Camera, 1990. Fuji was not the first company to introduce single use cameras, but they were the most successful.  The cameras originally used 110 film, but were soon made with 35mm film in a variety of speeds and eventually included a built-in flash.  While their popularity has waned over the years, they are still in use today.fuji

#1 – Kodak DC-40, 1995, $600 org. price.  Kodak’s first consumer digital camera took photos at a whopping 512 x 768 resolution with an internal memory of 4 MB.  The camera was 6” x 5” x 2” and weighed over a pound.  Ironically, it was the change from film to digital that helped bring on the demise of Eastman Kodak.

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