what were they thinking?

Camera Lucida in use. Courtesy of Neolucida

Toronto. Today, we all take photography for granted. Images are shot endlessly to record things once written, or capture family moments, or pets, or property changes, etc. We leave news, tv, political, formal portraits, etc. images to the professionals. With exceptions, of course, like someone right there with a smartphone – or a TV network soliciting ‘free’ photos … .

Nicéphore Niépce, considered by many as the father of photography, was trying to simplify lithography and printing by using the sun to capture a scene directly on a pewter printing plate. The vast potential of photography wasn’t even considered back then. His partner in that collaboration, Louis Daguerre, produced dioramas, those huge painted displays that cleverly changed scenes when cautiously placed lighting was dimmed or brightened. He wanted to capture distant scenes so his huge panels could be painted from the prints at another place and a later time.

A similar invention by Henry Fox Talbot was intended to capture landscapes by the effect of the sun. Fox Talbot was an amateur artist and the idea occurred to him while he was on a painting holiday (honeymoon?) in Italy using a Camera Lucida to get his landscape proportions right.  His invention preceded the daguerreotype but he kept it for his own use. The Daguerreotype announcement pushed him to announce his own process in the same month (January 1839).

Thomas Wedgwood of the famous pottery family in England has been described as the first photographer in spite of his early death decades before the January 1839 announcements. Using the fact that silver nitrate was sensitive to sunlight and darkened depending on the duration and intensity of it, Wedgwood attempted to capture the popular Camera Obscura images of the day. Unsuccessful, he also tried silhouettes with more success, but the images also faded to black whether kept in darkness or not.

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beating the bus

1916 – sending a photo hundreds of miles via telegraph wires

Toronto. Even before the announcement of photography experimenters struggled to get drawings and later photos to distant locations without resorting to buses or other vehicles of land or sea based locomotion.

Telegraph offered a way to send images if they could be coded line by line. The technology to do such was refined over the years to improve resolution and contrast range.

In January of 1916, the magazine, “the Electrical Experimenter” on page 482 presented a detailed article by Samuel Cohen  showing the latest way to accomplish this feat with a 400 mile transmission over telegraph lines to a French newspaper. Remember, the Great War was well underway in Europe by 1916. Cameras were generally massive. Tripods were an essential accessory for crisp photos, and the automobile was steadily improving while Henry Ford’s Model T, introduced eight years earlier in 1908, became the model everyone  could afford to own and operate.

For most of the era of photography such means to transmit photos was the life blood of all newspapers where time was of the essence and slow delivery meant a worthless photo. In the 1930s, even the movies got into the act demonstrating wire facsimile via a Charlie Chan flick.

Today, we don’t think twice about sending high resolution full colour photos by smartphone in an instant (whether next door or half-way across the globe). As big tobacco once  said of Virginia Slims, “You’ve come a long way, baby“.

A huge thank you to my good friend George Dunbar for sharing this bit of history when photos were sent “by wire” to newspapers just waiting to illustrate their latest edition.

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eulogy for simplicity

Ad for simplicity – Kodak M12 line of Instamatic movie cameras per the LIFE ad in 1968

Toronto. Kodak made its money in the days of film by selling, ummm, film. And to do that, Kodak sold inexpensive cameras – film burners. But with seemingly a big difference to its competitors – they listened to their customers. This was exemplified in their 1968 LFE ad for super 8 movie Instamatic cartridges and cameras.

The ad suggests an M12 or alternative Instamatic movie camera. The cameras besides being cheap, offered quick cartridge loading with no need to flip or thread; Super 8 image size; battery operation, (eliminating the mechanical winder), and simple operation.

The short focus f/2.7 lens gave a deep depth of field eliminating focussing. The f/stop could be changed to match the light (or faster film). Of course, the more expensive versions had electric eyes, zoom lenses, etc. and it took a bit more learning to operate them cxorrectly. The above ad appeared in LIFE magazine’s April 26, 1968 issue as a two page spread on pages 21, 22.

A heartfelt thank you to my good friend George Dunbar for sharing this bit of photographic history with me.

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a call for participation in our virtual programme

Celio’s Logo for the Virtual Programme

Toronto. In a recent post, I mentioned we plan to replace our regular in-person monthly meetings with alternatives. This comment was quickly acted upon by our Programme Coordinator after his proposal was discussed at this past Wednesday’s Executive meeting.

This message will appear in our PHSC News this week (I will forward any emails directly to Celio. Our email address is info@phsc.ca).:


PHSC Virtual Programming announcement & call
The fight against COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact in our programming, locking us out of our venue, restricting our movements, and ability to gather indoors (and now outdoors too). Due to this dynamic situation, The PHSC is launching the PHSC Virtual Programme this fall with a variety of online talks, webinars, tutorials and more!
We are inviting those of you who’d like to participate in our First-Ever PHSC Virtual Show & Tell! Do you have a photographic gem you’d love to share with our beloved and respected members and friends? Please get in touch with us with your interest. We’re looking for 4 or 5 interesting pieces with unusual stories. Tickets for the V-S&T (Virtual Show & Tell) will be available at Eventbrite.ca, free for members, $10 for non-members. Stay tuned for the line-up and date announcement.
To express your interest, please get in touch with us through our email or our instagram account @P.H.S.Canada. Gear, cameras, lenses, images, publications, and any other gems in your photographica collection you wish to talk about are OK.
Celio H. Barreto
PHSC Programme Coordinator
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just a girl and her camera

self portrait of Geraldine Moodie c1896

Toronto. At a ZOOM meeting the other day, Celio, noted the most popular posts to our Instagram site were photos of photographers with their cameras. Celio collaborated with our newest PHSC exec recruit, Alexandra, to find a way to celebrate Women History Month (October) and came up with the idea of Wednesday posts of women photographers and their cameras.

Celio writes, “Did you know that this month is Women’s History Month (WHM) in Canada? This month-long annual celebration first began in 1992 when the Government of Canada designated October as WHM. We thought this would be the perfect time for a new Instagram series …#WomanCrushWednesday! Each Wednesday, we’ll highlight a woman photographer. Check us out on Instagram @P.H.S.Canada!”.

I took a page from Bob Lansdale’s most recent Photographic Canadiana journal (46-3) and used a Glenbow Museum photo of Geraldine Moodie that Lisandra Cortina de la Noval  used in her article in 46-3 on Moodie (dubbed as the first female photographer in Canada).

NB. To join the PHSC, just take out your plastic, choose the location (domestic or international) and period (1 or 3 years) then hit the PayPal button on the upper right side of this website and Bingo! You are a member! Now, how easy is that (and cheap too). The journal itself is a bargain for any photo historian. Well written, well respected, and in this time of COVID-19 available as a pdf via MailChimp (and your email address). PLUS there are extra pdfs too – some general; some members only.

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a Russian Vivian Maier?

a Russian Vivian Maier?

Toronto. Vivian Maier was a Chicago nanny who quietly photographed the world around her but never showed the results. Her works were discovered posthumously and surprised viewers when the prints revealed her talent and professional eye.

Recently, a similar find was discovered in Russia by Asya Ivashintsova-Melkumyan. This time it was her mother, Masha Ivashintsova, (1942 – 2000) who left a legacy of over 30,000 photos discovered after her death by her daughter. The website, mymodernmet.com reported this find back on March 19, 2018 in an article by Jessica Stewart titled Interview: Woman Discovers Over 30,000 Secret Photos Left Behind by Her Mother.

My thanks to my good friend Russ Forfar deep in the wilds of Southern Ontario for sharing this Modern Met article with me.

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Toronto. Over the years people have christened their weird and wonderful optical marvels with odd names like “stereopticon” for a mechanical projector of 3D and 2D images. When I looked up the definition of the name in a dictionary, it was described as, “ a slide projector that combines two images to create a three-dimensional effect, or makes one image dissolve into another“.

This particular stereopticon was found reported in the February 1920 magazine “Electrical Experimenter“. The device was made and marketed by General Electric as the “Owen Automatic Stereopticon“.  A patent for a similar device with a vertical slide tray (USPTO No. 1,296,583) was assigned to Frank L Oleson of Chicago in 1919. The number  of mechanical components in both designs suggest the trouble-free “life time” operation was a bit optimistic.

Frank L Oleson patent for an Automatic Stereopticon c1919

It’s easy to see why this cumbersome machine disappeared when 35mm transparencies and projectors hit the market (perhaps even earlier). My thanks to my good friend George Dunbar for bringing this bit of photographic history to my attention.

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Zoomin’ into 7th heaven

Toronto. We held our seventh COVID-19 inspired exec meeting via ZOOM (This could be the beginning of a wonderful friendship as Rick said in Casablanca). A big thanks to Celio for arranging the meeting once again. Key changes are shown below. Toronto is in stage 3 at present as we enter the second wave of COVID-19. Sadly ALL events are cancelled at least until 2021. Our monthly meeting venue (North York Memorial Hall) is closed to events by the city until at least December 31, 2020.

PHSC News will go out shortly for October. Sign up at news@phsc.ca for a free pdf copy. Members get specials plus the journal via pdf. Contact me if you are a member and HAVE NOT seen the pdfs. Some members have unsubscribed to MailChimp; some emails are invalid; and others have no email on file with the society. Any questions? Just drop me a note at info@phsc.ca (we are looking at alternatives to in person meetings).

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that’s how the light gets in – II

Petzval Portrait lens – first popular photographic lens design – early 1840s

Toronto. When the Daguerreotype process was announced in January 1839, it was so slow that only still life and landscape views could be recorded. The news of the process speed resulted in a two direction thrust: chemically, to enhance the process in order to increase its speed of recording; and optically, to design a much faster portrait lens for the camera.

The decision to improve the portrait lens speed was via an announced award by the “Society for the Encouragement of National Industry“. Their challenge was taken up by amongst others, Chevalier and Petzval. Chevalier’s design won gold (but was soon forgotten), while Petzval’s, at the university in Vienna where he taught, won silver and went on to be a great success. In spite of no design experience, Petzval designed an f/3.6 lens of 150mm focal length with the prescribed flat field, etc. The submitted lens was manufactured in Vienna by the optical house of Voigtlander and later by many other optical houses. This lens was about 20x faster than the original Chevalier lens. (See the previous post on Chevalier’s 1839 lens.)

And like I said in that post: To read more, pick up a copy of Rudolf Kingslake’s “A History of the Photographic Lens“, (1989) or  Josef Eder‘s epic “History of Photography” (1932, 4th edition) translated by Edward Epstein and published in 1945 by Columbia University with the Dover reprint in 1978.

NB. The title is a line from Montrealer Leonard Cohen’s song/poem  “Anthem“. I have enjoyed his music and poems for over a half century now. This version is from his last world tour and was recorded in London, England.

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that’s how the light gets in

Wallaston c1812 Meniscus for cameras

Toronto. Did you ever wonder how Chevalier managed to make the first camera for Daguerre complete with a lens before 1839 ? The lens had been designed a quarter century earlier c1812 by the  Englishman Wollaston as a landscape lens for the then popular Camera Obscura. It was a simple meniscus design with the concave side facing the scene. The primitive lens was about f/15 in today’s terms.

The meniscus design resulted in a flatter field of view than any previously used Camera Obscura lenses. However; the meniscus when used on a Daguerreotype camera was not great as its chromatic aberration was too high (and too variable with focusing distance). For example, when the human eye saw warmer colours were in focus on a ground glass, the resulting image on the daguerreotype plate was out of focus (the medium was more sensitive to the cooler blue colours). By 1839, Chevalier had solved the chromatic aberration problem by adding a second element cemented to the first allowing the focus on the ground glass to match the focus on the silvered plate.

To read more, pick up a copy of Rudolf Kingslake’s “A History of the Photographic Lens“, (1989) or  Josef Eder‘s epic “History of Photography” (1932, 4th edition) translated by Edward Epstein and published in 1945 by Columbia University with the Dover reprint in 1978.

NB. The title is a line from Montrealer Leonard Cohen’s song/poem  “Anthem“. I have enjoyed his music and poems for over a half century now. This version is from his last world tour and was recorded in London, England.

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