Todd Gustavson's Posts

Todd Gustavson is the curator of technology at George Eastman House, working with the collection for more than 20 years.

Daguerre Introduced Photography 175 Years Ago

Posted by on Aug 19 2014 | Photography, Technology

It has been 175 since Louis Daguerre introduced photography to the world. The Giroux daguerreotype apparatus is photography’s first camera manufactured in quantity.

On June 22, 1839, L.-J.-M. Daguerre and Isidore Niépce (the son of Daguerre’s deceased partner, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce) signed a contract with Alphonse Giroux (a relative of Daguerre’s wife) granting him the rights to sell the materials and equipment required to produce daguerreotype images.

Scientist and politician François Arago publicly announced the new daguerreotype process in a speech to the French Academy of Art and Sciences on August 19, 1839, and the first advertisement promoting the process appeared in the August 21 issue of La Gazette de France.

Within three short weeks, Giroux met with popular success both in and outside of France; the first export of his company’s cameras arrived in Berlin, Germany, on September 6, 1839.

Giroux daguerreotype camera, 1839. Alphonse Giroux, Paris France. Gift of Eastman Kodak Company, ex-collection Gabriel Cromer.

Giroux daguerreotype camera, 1839. Alphonse Giroux, Paris, France. Gift of Eastman Kodak Company, ex-collection Gabriel Cromer.

Click here to learn more about Daguerre and the Daguerreotype photographic process.

For more about the history of photographic technology, check out the book Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital.

 

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75 years – The Super Kodak Six-20

Posted by on Jul 17 2013 | Photography

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Super Kodak Six-20, 1938, Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, New York. Gift of Eastman Kodak Company

July 2013 marks the 75th anniversary of the Super Kodak Six-20, the first production camera to feature automatic exposure (AE) control. Aimed at removing the exposure guesswork for photographers, the camera’s shutter-preferred AE control meant that the photographer chose the shutter speed and the camera would then “choose” the correct lens opening. Kodak’s engineers accomplished this feat by mechanically coupling a selenium photo cell light meter, located just above the top half of the camera’s folding clamshell.

This advancement, though groundbreaking, was not picked up by most camera manufacturers for some twenty years after the debut of the Super Six-20. These days, automatic exposure is a standard feature on almost all cameras. And it is not much of a stretch to call the Super Kodak Six-20 the first “smart camera.”

But auto exposure was not the only cutting-edge feature of the Super Six-20. It was also the first Kodak camera to use a common window for both the rangefinder and viewfinder. The film advances with a single-stroke lever, which also cocks the shutter at the end of the stroke, thus preventing double exposures. And like auto exposure, these features would not become common on cameras for many years.

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Features aside, the Super Kodak Six-20 is one of the most attractive cameras ever marketed. Its lovely clamshell exterior design was styled by legendary industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague.

All this innovation came at a rather high price and not without some issues. The Super Kodak Six-20 retailed for $225 in 1938 (that would be over $2,000 today) and it had a reputation for being somewhat unreliable—the built-in self-timer was known to lock up the shutter. Since few models were manufactured, some 719, it is highly sought after by camera collectors.

 

 

 

 

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April 15, 1840 – One of the first cameras sold in the U.S.

Posted by on Apr 15 2013 | Photography, Technology

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Receipt of one of the first cameras to be sold in the U.S.

Samuel A. Bemis (1793–1881), a Boston dentist and amateur daguerreotypist, bought one of the first cameras ever sold in the United States on April 15, 1840. Fortunately, he and his heirs saved not only the camera but also its receipt. While it is likely too late to return the camera, the receipt is useful as evidence of what is probably the earliest documented sale of an American daguerrean outfit.

Thanks to the dentist’s pack rat ways, we know that on April 15, 1840, he paid $76 to François Gouraud, Giroux’s agent in the U.S., for a “daguerreotype apparatus,” twelve whole plates at $2 each, and a freight charge of $1.

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Full-plate daguerreotype camera (owned by S. A. Bemis)

The apparatus, which Gouraud advertised as consisting of sixty-two items, included the camera, lens, plate holder, iodine box for sensitizing plates, mercury box for developing plates, holding box for unused plates, and a large wooden trunk to house the entire system. Quite large, the camera weighs about thirteen pounds and can produce full-plate images, 6½ x 8½ inches in size.

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Full-plate daguerreotype camera outfit

Bemis made his first daguerreotype on April 19, 1840, from the window of his Boston office, and during the next several years went on to expose more than three hundred images, most of them in his beloved White Mountains of New Hampshire. The George Eastman House collection also contains a second Bemis camera and nineteen of his images.

First Bemis Daguerreotype

First  S.A. Bemis Daguerreotype

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Bemis’ Inventory in 1936 discussing the camera purchase in 1840.

 

 

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50th Anniversary of the Instamatic (1963)

Posted by on Mar 12 2013 | Photography, Technology

 

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March 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the Kodak Instamatic family of cameras. These cameras, featuring the instant-loading 126 (Kodapack) film cartridge, were by far the most successful of the time. Instamatics, like the Brownies they replaced, were the entrée cameras for a new generation of photographers.

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Some of the accolades associated with this iconic 1960s-era camera are:

• The Instamatic provided the amateur photographer an inexpensive, well-made, and easy-to-use camera

• The Instamatic was the most successful Eastman Kodak Company camera since the introduction of the Brownie camera of 1900

• More than 50 million Instamatic cameras were sold worldwide between 1963 and 1970, with 7.5 million sold within the first two years of production

• It was introduced at a time when camera innovation was dominated by German and Japanese companies, proving American engineering could still produce competitive products

• The Instamatic 100 was designed by Frank A. Zagara, who won a Certificate of Design Merit from the Industrial Designers Institute

• The cartridge-loading system was a bombshell success, copied by numerous camera and film manufacturers around the world

• The 126 cartridge was designed by Kodak engineer Hubert Nerwin, with patent number 3,138,081 granted June 23, 1964

• The name Instamatic name became synonymous with snapshot photography, similar to the Kodak name during George Eastman’s time

 

instamatic
We’ve currently got one on display in the entrance gallery –  if you’re in town stop in and check it out.

 

 

 

 

 

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Retina Camera Research

Posted by on Aug 13 2012 | Exploring the Archive, History, Photography

Some interesting research happening at Eastman House – David Jentz of the Retina Historical Society is here, along with co-researcher, Dr. Klaus-Peter Roesner of Germany looking at our Retina cameras, accessories, and literature in the collection. Mr. Jentz is a well known authority on the Retina camera and has lectured and published numerous articles.

Here are some examples of the cameras they’re spending time with.

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