the times they are a-changin’

Should I Take a Picture?

Toronto. The Bob Dylan song “The Times They Are a-Changin’” appeared in the mid 1960s on the same named album.  And looking at photography and the dynamic shift from film to digital is so appropriate to Dylan’s song.

George Dunbar sent me this remarkable shot of smart phones and digital cameras taking photos of the Obamas –  seemingly far more charming and loved than The Donald. All you see is a sea of digital screens and hands held overhead … Changin’ indeed!

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Snoping out fauxtography

Melting in a heat wave?

Toronto. Was this heat wave REALLY so hot that cars melted in Arizona? Does the claim pass the smell test? Yeah,right!

For many years the Snopes site has helped us mere mortals perform a decent smell test. Our customers occasionally sent on dubious email messages purporting to one thing or another that seemed off. A quick check on Snopes usually confirmed the claim to be fake or valid along with a reasonable explanation. We know that in photography – especially since the days of darkroom enlarging … and Photoshop – that not everything you see is true. This usually is done for a hoax or by politicians to sway the votes of the unwitting public.

My thanks to John Linsky for reminding me of Snopes and their valuable service in this day and age of chicanery and fake news. The cars? Yeah they did melt down in Arizona, but not from the sun – it was an intense fire nearby that melted the vehicles 🙂

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something’s wrong with this picture

Philippe Halsman and
wife Yvonne Moser
in 1951 portrait

Toronto. In 1992, the late Glenn Frey, released the album Strange Weather. Included was the song Love in the 21st Century which includes the above line. Frey was the front man and writer for the dysfunctional rock band the Eagles. When they disbanded in 1980, Frey went on his own. His songs are familiar to viewers of many Hollywood action movies as well as the Eagles and Frey’s own albums and singles.

The late Philippe Halsman was a  professional NYC studio photographer perhaps best known for his photographs of painter Salvador Dali. His alternate choice of camera was a TLR. In this photo sourced by George Dunbar, Halsman captures himself and his wife in a whimsical portrait. But look closely! All is not as it seems …


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Ernest Brown, photographer (1877- 1951)

Ernest Brown
of Edmonton AB
and gear c1892

Toronto. Ernest Brown was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the bleak northern English town famous for its coal mines many decades ago, on September 8th, 1877, or so the book by Derek Hayes called “Canada: An Illustrated History notes based on an entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia published in print and online by the famous Mel Hurtig.

In 1892, Brown photographed three fellow photographers in Mission BC while they were busy snapping the native Indians performing “The Crucifixion“. His fellow snappers, from left, are William Manson Boone [William Hanson Boorne], Ernest G May [Boorne’s cousin and business partner in Calgary], and Charles W Mathers [who later bought the Boorne and May business in Calgary].

The first volume of Photographic Canadiana, issue 7 , in an excerpt from the  “Canadian Photographic Journal” notes “An Early Western Photographer” mentioning Boorne and May in Calgary.


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Alice Austen of Staten Island, photographer

Alice Austen c1892
at Clear Comfort, Staten Island

Toronto. George Dunbar dropped me a note the other day about an early American woman photographer who was discovered by a wider audience only near the end of her life. Like Vivian Maier, she embraced photography as a hobby, but took her photographs more like a professional.

Austen lived a life of luxury in her parent’s estate, a vast mansion and grounds on Staten Island called Clear Comfort. Never marrying, she spent a life of leisure and photography in the company of friends until the market crash of 1929 when she was wiped out. Shown here at 75 years old, Austen died a pauper a year later in 1952.

A fine biography of her and her work was published in 1976. Called Alice’s World: The Life and Photography of an American Original, Alice Austen, 1866 – 1952, it was written by author Ann  Novotny. Austen made only about 7,000 glass plate negatives over her life-time, but they offer an insightful record of a life of wealth in the NYC area, and Staten Island in particular.

Just a year before her death, LIFE magazine did a seven page essay on Austen with many of her photographs in the September 24th, 1951 issue beginning on page 137 of that issue (by the way, you can read the entire issue on the above link courtesy of Google. Use the little dropdown menu – top right on my browser – which says Front Cover to link to the article on page 137 entitled “The Newly Discovered Picture World of Alice Austen” ).

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freezing motion at slow shutter speeds


Baby Brownie in NYC
LIFE Sep 17, 1951

Toronto. In the days of film, photographers used a trick to freeze a subject into sharp focus – scanning.  An article in a very old issue of LIFE magazine (Sept 17, 1951, p 121) shows the effect at a ball game using the primitive shutter in a box camera (about 1/30th second top speed).

The article shows how a NYC photographer, Hy Peskin, ditches his professional gear for a cheap $3 Baby Brownie (This is an older model, Hy used one like I had as a kid). Hy took two shots, first panning the runner as he hit first base – runner sharp everything else blurry. Then second, holding the tiny camera still – base runner blurry, all else more or less sharp.

Another trick, often used (by me and many others) is to snap the shot just as the subject reached peak motion – e.g. a child on a swing. The subject slows, stops, then accelerates back. With a bit of skill, the photo is snapped just as the subject stops and reverses direction.

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why a Leica?

Why a Leica?
c1954 brochure

Toronto. After the second world war, Leitz found itself competing with an old outmoded design in the screw mount series of cameras. In the 1954, it began to market the bayonet mount series of M Leicas. The M series is still available to-day, over 60 years later, as high end digital cameras.

The question of why remains relevant. In the late 1950s, I was unfamiliar with the M series or mirror boxes since I had only seen screw-mount IIIf cameras. The question of purchase came down to a Leica with what I thought was a squinty little viewfinder for 5cm lenses only or a beautiful Exakta with through the lens viewing in a bright waist level finder interchangeable with a bright eye level finder. No contest. We (me and two other potential buyers) spent weeks mulling over the various lens options. I chose Steinheil and Angenieux even though the lenses of choice were Zeiss. At the time, an Exakta cost far more than a IIIf Leica.

Continue reading

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movie film stats c2009

NFB Statistics from
The Beaver c2009

Toronto. George Dunbar sent me an email the other day on statistics from spring 2009 issue of The Beaver. The statistics relate to the National Film Board (NFB) Vault. We have a gem in the NFB which was established in 1939. The board has even won an Oscar back in 1953.

I did a brief obit post on Grant Munro who collaborated on the Oscar winning short called  Neighbours with Norm McLaren, all the more relevant today with the Donald romping around down south…


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the first 35mm camera was?

Part of Jack Naylor’s collection
showing pre-Leica
35mm film cameras

Toronto. The late Thurman “Jack” Naylor of Massachusetts was a famous and well known collector of cameras and photographica in the States. In May of 1991 we had the pleasure of hosting Jack in Toronto where he gave a speech  to the PHSC after we enjoyed a dinner in his honour. Mo Patz was our president. Mark Singer was both our past president and author of Toronto Notes. Bob Lansdale was our official photographer and I acted as membership secretary. While John Alldredge was programs by the time the meeting was recorded in our journal, Les Jones had arranged for Jack’s talk when he was programs some months earlier.

As part of that talk on his (first) collection, Jack handed out to the audience of 50+ a brochure he wrote for the  PHSNE and later was published as an insert in the LHSA’s Viewfinder magazine. The brochure was titled “A New Look at the Old 35”.

In the summer of 1980, Leitz made  a lot of noise in its advertisements that Leica was the first camera to use 35mm film. While many sources credited the tiny Leica as the first 35mm film camera to be popular, at least 27 35mm film cameras preceded its entry in the marketplace in 1925, many of which were included in Jack’s well documented collection!

He published this brochure to clarify facts on early 35mm cameras. The Photographic Historical Society of New England, the Leica Historical Society of America, and our PHSC were logical recipients of Jack’s wisdom and research. And the first 35mm camera? The earliest recorded 35mm camera is the patent by Dr Alberto Lleo of Spain recorded on March 9th, 1908!



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camera brochures

Exakta Camera Brochure

Toronto. Camera makers offered many, many brochures to explain the virtues of their products to the common man. I have a few these days, mostly published by Ihagee, Leitz, Hasselblad (or their importers and distributors), or Kodak.

These brochures give a great historical lesson to the camera collector today. In The Ultimate Eye, Leitz in Rockleigh NJ stress  the precision and testing of all parts of their famous optics (the choice of  a Leitz Canada lens on the cover acknowledges the world renown lens designer Walther Mandler who emigrated to Midland, Ontario with the establishment of the Leitz factory there). Other brochures like the Leica M4-P cover each model and its features from a user’s point of view.

The whole gamut of Leitz lenses offered in 1969, including the Visoflex housing were marketed in a delightful little pocket sized brochure titled simply Leica Lenses.

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