Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The First Death of Photography 1895

Searching my archives today I came across the book, Photography: Artistic and Scientific by Robert Johnson and Arthur Brunel Chatwood, Published 1895. I reproduce here an extract from the Introduction. There is something slightly timeless about the sentiment expressed even if the language and the grammar are a little dated.

The strides that photography is made during the last few years, due to the patient and earnest work of a large body of experimentalists, have not been an unmixed blessing; the production sensitive plates and other materials at cheap rates, and the possibility which exist today of buying everything ready prepared, having induced thousands to take up photography as an amusement, not as “hobby.” The result has been that the quality of the work produced has deteriorated. We do not say that the photographs are no t[sic] produced today far excelling those of the wet collodion period, but we do say that if the whole of the plates exposed in any recent year could be collected, the average quality of the results, whether from the technical or the artistic standpoint, would be found much lower than that of 20 years ago.

In the days of wet collodion, only those who were prepared to take great trouble, to exercise much thought, and to do serious work, were attracted by photography. The enormous amount of impedimenta that it was necessary to carry about deterred the half-hearted; the trouble of preparing plates caused every effort to be put forth to make each plate serve a useful purpose, and the fact that the negatives were developed on the spot, gave every opportunity for correcting by a second exposure, the errors of a first.

“Some years ago,” says a contemporary magazine, “when amateur photography was in its infancy here, as well as in other countries, a soulless corporation extensively advertised a camera which only required a button to be pressed and pictures were made. The idea soon took root that there was nothing in photography, when it merely required the pressing of a button. It was apparent that any fool could do that. And when these cameras where purchased and tried, the result convinced the owner of the fact, not only that any fool could do it, but that he was a fool a good many sizes larger for doing it. The feeling of disgust and disappointment was created, and there is little doubt but that photography was taken up by thousands and dropped again when it was found out how it had been misrepresented to them....

...Photography is considered by very many as an art, and photographers, consequently, as artists; nothing could be further from the truth. Photography is purely an interesting science; it records with greater or less fidelity the scenes and incidents presented to it; and this record is governed by scientific and mechanical principles alone.

Art consists of the representation of a conception formed in the mind of the artist in such a way as to be appreciable to other minds. And the photographer becomes an artist only in so far as his work shows that he has the mind of an artist.
I particularly like these two final paragraphs, they sum up quite concisely the paradox of photography which persists even to this day, technology v aesthetics. The change from the wet collodion process to dry plates was the first technological turn in photography. Similar sentiments have been expressed when other technological turns have influenced the popularity of photography, namely the introduction of the Kodak Brownie, 35mm photography and of course the biggest technological turn of them all the digitisation of photography. On each occasion the cognoscenti have thrown their hands in the air and claimed that the end of photography is nigh.

You can view the book on line here

How to Notate or Mark-up a Book

I started a new book at the weekend and it is so interesting and relevant that I found myself marking up virtually every word. This morning I stopped my self and thought, there has to be a better way to do this. Then I thought, in 4 years of study know-one had ever shown me how to mark-up or notate a book correctly or efficiently, may be a better word. So the inevitable Google lead me to this short and to the point article on A Wordsmith's Studies blog, How to Notate a Book, I hope the author will forgive me for re-posting the article in full...

How to Notate a Book

 When skimming a book, you are looking for answers to the questions of what kind of book is it? what is it about? what is the structure of the book?  Make note of the answers to these questions on the contents page or possibly the title page.
When you go back and re-read the book (if you believe it is worth re-reading), here are some suggestions for note-making:
  1. Underline or circle major points and important or forceful statements.
  2. Use vertical lines at the margin to emphasize something you’ve already underlined or to mark a passage too long to be underlined.
  3. Use a star, asterisk, or other doodle at the margin to emphasize the 10-12 most important passages in the book.  If you either bookmark the page or fold down the corner of the page where you’ve made the mark, you’ll be able to take the book off the shelf and flip right to it.
  4. Write numbers in the margin to show a sequence of points in the author’s argument.
  5. Write the numbers of other pages in the margin to show elsewhere in the book the author makes the same points or places he contradicts himself.
  6. Write your thoughts in the margins: questions, answers; a summary of what the author is saying; the sequence of major points in the book.
  7. Use the endpapers at the back to make an index of the author’s points in order of appearance.
  8. When you’ve finished reading the book and making your index on the back endpapers, then outline the book’s structure in the front endpapers.
After you’ve finished reading the book, if you decide to move on and compare that book to others you are reading, then you probably will need to make those notes on separate paper.
–adapted from How to Read a Book
I make no apologies for reposting the article referred to in the first chapter Skimming a Book which is also a useful reference.

Skimming a Book

Whilst reading up about how to Notate or Mark-up a book, I came across an associated article on The Wordsmith's Studies blog, Skimming a Book, which I hope the author will not mind me re-posting here in full...

How to Skim a Book

(Also known as “Notes from How to Read a Book.”)
  1. Read the title page and preface, looking for the subject of the book and the author’s special angle on it.
  2. Read the table of contents for a general sense of the book’s structure.
  3. Scan the index and estimate the range of topics covered and the books and authors referred to.  If some of the terms seem crucial, look up some of the places they are cited in the book.  Those cites may include the book’s central premise or the key to understanding it.
  4. Read the blurb on the dust jacket or back cover (if it has one).
If the book doesn’t seem worth reading, put it aside.  If you want to read it more carefully, then continue on:
  1. Look at the chapters that seem to be pivotal to the book’s argument.  If there are summary statements in their opening or closing pages, read those carefully.
  2. Thumb through the book, reading a paragraph or two here and there, sometimes several pages in a row (but never more than that), following the basic argument of the book.  Always read the last two to three pages of the book (not counting the epilogue), because usually the author will sum up what they think is new or important about their work in these pages.
After the hour or less that this process takes, you should know whether or not the book in question is worth more of your time and attention.