Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I purchased this photo on our brief anniversary junket to the East Village last week. It was the first I saw of several in a messy, meandering pile and it was by far the most outstanding. The photos were expensive and therefore I did not give into a compulsion to purchase them all and keep them together. However it was interesting that they very much appeared to be the survivors of a single roll of film, with this one as the lucky shot, both in composition and light. This photo, and all of the others, is mounted on a heavy paper, probably cut out of some sort of a photo album having been affixed at the time. There is a water stain running along the bottom of the paper, not shown here.
The nascent photographer did hit it on the nose here, and as above not again even with the same street and woman what was likely moments later – nor with some folks at the beach at another time. In all fairness, remember that this would have been the earliest of the box cameras – loaded with a roll of film for 100 shots, the camera had not so much as a viewfinder, nor anyway of judging or controlling light – the shutter was moved by pulling a string! They were quite literally a point and shoot as the advertisements said. The whole camera with film was sent back to Kodak and the reloaded camera sent back to you while they processed your roll of film. The circular image tells us that this was the first of these models, patented in 1888. This circular model continued at least through 1890, but eventually morphed into a rectangular format.
While I have enumerated some of the shortcomings of this first entry into photography for the masses, I feel compelled to enumerate some of the gains – those which ultimately accelerate photography forward, culminating, in a sense, in moving pictures all in a span of a few decades. Up until the point of roll film and the box camera, photography required heavy cameras on tripods and mostly glass plates were still in use. The printing of them, executed by the photographer was technical, difficult, and required many chemicals.
This camera, an expensive acquisition costing a fearful $25 at the time, was the development that helped goose photography forward. In some ways I think of it as the iPhone picture taker of its day. (A decade later the Brownie was introduced and only cost a dollar and presumably that’s when photography for the masses really explodes.) What cell phone photography did to photography in the past decade, the box camera did for it at the close of the 19th century. The technology race that starts with daguerreotypes and ends in movies is one of my favorite stories – it seemed like developments in film couldn’t come out fast enough and epitomizes something especially great about the formation of this country at the dawn of the 20th century.
What struck me about this photo was that despite the period dress there was something fresh about it as if it was just snapped. It is a bright day and these women are in their lovely summer dresses, the sidewalk and the whole composition leads us back into space. It has a southern feel to me, something antebellum about the architecture of the houses behind the woman in white. And yet there’s also something about the light that makes me think of a resort at the shore as well. In some ways this photo encompasses the best glimpse of the past photos can offer. A sliver of time delivered to us from the now distant past.
Below are some other splendid examples I snatched off of the internet at a site called Mashable.