the great yellow father

Kodak was everywhere in 1957

Toronto.  In the early to mid last century Kodak was the pre-eminent name in photography. The company was known world-wide. Retailers featured Kodak film, paper, and if not exclusively camera shops, Kodak cameras and gift kits.

Kodak offered every imaginable variety of camera: box, 35mm, professional (Graflex), movie, stereo, fancy, or cheap. A camera for everyone and an insistence on using Kodak accessories, filters, films and papers.

A Professional branch catered to the pros offering professional products not readily available to amateurs. I can remember asking a retailer for a Kodak product and being advised I would have to contact Kodak or its professional chain for the product since he could not order it.

This 1957 ad in LIFE shows the amazingly wide range of Kodak products for amateurs back in the mid last century when the Rochester company was a force to be reckoned with (as I mangle my grammar). A special thanks to George Dunbar for sourcing the ad and bringing back so many memories.

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China through British eyes in 1980s

Shanghai 1985 by Adrian Bradshaw

Toronto. Russ Forfar often alerts me to interesting scientific concepts potentially of use in future photographic endeavours. This time Russ sent me a note on a new book by the British photographer Adrian Bradshaw.

Adrian has been interested in China for decades. His book, “The Door Opened: 1980s China” was published in 2018 by Impress, London. An article on Bradshaw and the book was posted online by BBC News a few days ago on August 8th.

The article and Bradshaw’s photographs offer an insight into the middle kingdom, all the more relevant with Trump’s current trade bun-fight and the tête-à-tête with us and China over a Huawei executive and Canadians in China.

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something’s wrong with this picture

confusing viral photo…

Toronto. Over half a century ago, I was struggling with my black and white prints. They were terrible. I resolved to focus on improving them and eventually did so by matching my negative contrast to the print contrast and choosing a matching paper grade along with doing the correct initial exposure, chemical mixing, time, and temperature when processing. etc.

Today, digital pictures can be manipulated in various image editors such as Photoshop or Affinity Photo to fix or fake results. In the colour shot above or left, look closely at the background to see the effect of Photoshop and ingenuity.

My post title is from a line sung by the late Glenn Frey in the song “Love in the 21st Century“. Frey was one of the musicians to go it alone when the Eagles imploded. I have this song on his CD album “Strange Weather” from 1992.

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you’ve seen Marilyn Lightstone

by Marilyn Lightstone

Toronto. Marilyn Lightstone is a Canadian actress and artist. One media she uses is photography. Have a look here at her photographs.

My thanks to George Dunbar for bringing Ms Lightstone to my attention.

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land of the setting sun?

a sad tale of falling sales

Toronto. I remember Japan being known as the land of the rising sun for its flag and post war recovery. A few decades after the second world war, they trashed the German Camera Industry other than the odd high end camera, putting to rest the old adage that they could imitate but not innovate.

The WCPHA newsletter quotes member Marc Kramer as passing on a report about continuing declines in digital camera sales. Unfortunately, the link to the report doesn’t work, but a browse of the web shows many sites like digital camera world noting the sharp drop in camera sales.

The drop is attributed to smartphones. Digital point and shoot cameras have gone from the market and now DSLRs are suffering. Will the Japanese Camera Industry disappear like the German Industry did about a half century ago? Will photography as a trade disappear too?

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it’s a Nicca not a Leica

NICCA Camera
click for latest WCPHA newsletter

Toronto. The Western Canada Photographic Historical Association has been around for years. The late EvRoseborough swapped correspondence with the WCPHA over their logo and ours many years ago.

Their latest 5 page pdf newsletter covers the history of the NICCA camera on page 5 plus other interesting historical information and their meeting schedule in earlier pages.

Have a look to see what our friends out west have been doing and take a bit further look at the NICCA and the Japanese Optical Industry in the mid last century.

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now everyone is a photographer…

Everybody became a photographer in the 21st century!

Toronto. In the beginning photography was limited to those with both scientific ability and artistic skill. Making a good daguerreotype image was challenging. Over the years the processes were simplified and streamlined. Near the end of the film era, almost anyone interested could make decent photos using the hour photo shops to process and print both paper photos and slides.

When digital took over, the act of photographing a subject was further simplified. Today, everyone has a smartphone and every smartphone has a built-in camera making everyone a photographer in this, the 21st century.

Most photographs taken today are forgettable – selfies, personal vacations, friends, personally memorable moments, etc. Newspapers and magazines are disappearing and  TV channels encourage viewers to submit their best photos for free. Computerized smartphones sort out white balance, ISO, stability, and even at times, smiles.

In this era of compact, portable phones able to snap photos and upload to friends, traditional media and social media immediately, the need and value of the professional photographer seems seriously limited. Few want to pay for the skill and thoughtfulness of the professional photographer.


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what the heck is a Darb?

Steve Allen-ese for 1957 Polaroid

Toronto. In 1957, Polaroid tried a new means and a new medium to show how easy their system was to use. At the time Steve Allen was popular on evening American TV (competing for audience with Ed Sullivan). A demo of Polaroid’s new camera and “picture in a minute” film by Allen had the TV audience applauding.

To back up this occasion – and emphasize the stability of Polaroid prints – Polaroid collaborated with NBC to feature Allen and Polaroid in a LIFE advertisement. Another version of “coat-tail” advertising, using a popular TV star to promote a new (and somewhat pricey) technology. Emphasis on the price of cameras quietly ignored the cost of film and 60 second prints. Allen was paid by Polaroid for the “infomercial” in Polaroid stock, making a fortune as the stock increased in value. Oh yes, Allen liked to make up his own words too…

Once again George Dunbar came through with this snippet of history (most of us were too young to appreciate Steve Allen and his antics in America when TV up here was so new).

I can remember going to my uncle’s farm to watch TV. His antenna was high enough to bring in the two Buffalo stations. We picked up our first TV in 1953 and struggled with poor signals from Toronto until our local station (CKVR) went live a couple of years later. At the time, I used a Brownie Hawk-eye box camera complete with flash for a far better chance of getting a decent exposure indoors, harsh shadows and all.

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making it big – making it better

Leitz VAROB and FOCOTAR enlarging lenses, decades apart

Toronto. We often hear that Leitz turned photography on its head with its revolutionary 35mm camera, the Leica. But then what? How could you make such tiny negatives into larger prints?

Fortunately enlargers were around before the little marvel and its tiny negative. Once the Leica became a success, Leitz quickly populated its catalogues with darkroom accessories including film processing tanks and enlargers. The earliest enlargers were box like affairs that produced small prints – like the 3×5 and 4×6 inch prints the small processing shops made as night fell on the 35mm film era.

Later, enlargers accepted the 50mm Elmar lens from the camera. Then Leitz designed the VAROB which was an Elmar especially for enlargers, not cameras. It was later followed by the more sophisticated (and slower) FOCOTAR which was made in various configurations until Leitz ceased manufacture of enlargers and enlarging lenses. Meantime, owners could argue about which was better for enlargers, Schneider, Leitz or Nikon enlarging lenses.

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time after time

GraLab Timer

Toronto. Back around 1960, I built my first darkroom. After an enlarger, my first purchase was a Gralab timer. This was when I first began developing and printing at home – high school and my time in Labrador and northern Quebec helped me hone the skills of developing film and printing positives (in black and white).

As you may know, a timer is needed for two critical operations: processing films via time and temperature, and printing positives using the same method.  Stop baths, fixing baths and washing are not that critical so a watch will do,  but development by time and temperature makes both critical.

As handy as the old Kodak Timer was, a massive Gralab with its big luminous dial and hands was the cat’s pyjamas for a serious amateur’s darkroom. Being a bit naive at the time I bought my Gralab, I added a foot switch socket, a push button “start”, an A/C fuse and a relay. Press the push button, and the relay sent power from the safelight to the enlarger for an accurately timed period preset on the large dial.

NB. The title of this post is from an old Cyndi Lauper song.

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