Archive for the 'History' Category

“All the daydreams must go…” Arctic Expedition tragedy revisited 100 years later

Posted by on Mar 29 2012 | History, Motion Pictures, Other, Photography

The Scott Expedition to the South Pole ended 100 years ago today, but still can be experienced through photo and film.

The George Eastman House Photography Collection has a small, but intriguing set of documentation from the ill-fated attempt by the Englishman Robert Falcon Scott and his team of four to reach the South Pole a century ago. The Scott Expedition resulted in the collection of numerous scientific specimens and more than 1,000 photographs and reels of film documenting the journey. But it all ended when Scott lost his life during the expedition 100 years ago today, March 29, 1912.

 

 

Lieut. Henry R. Bowers (British, 1883 – 1912) Descriptive Title: At the South Pole, Petty Officer Evans (foreground), Robert F. Scott, and Dr. Wilson at the site of the Norwegian flag left by Roald Amundsen and his team, who had beaten the Scott Expedition to be the first to reach the Pole by just 5 weeks. January 18, 1912

The Eastman House collection includes one nitrate negative (8 x 10.5 cm.) and 29 clips of motion picture film  (about five to seven frames each). This is not by any means the only surviving photographic record of the final Scott Expedition, though one wonders how and when the negative made its way from the Antarctic to Rochester, N.Y. Sources point to Charles F. Hutchison, who apparently acquired them from George Eastman. Hutchison lived next door to Eastman, was a Kodak employee, and was married to Eastman’s personal secretary.

The significance of the these images lies in the serendipitous and timely discovery at the Museum of this footage, and in their power to engage the imagination into the day-to day activities — and one bittersweet moment — in the lives of these men.

The negative and clips were discovered during the inventory of materials stored in the nitrate holding area of the museum in preparation for transfer to a new vault at Eastman House’s Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center. Here is what is written on the glassine envelope by an unknown museum staff member: “These negatives were evidently sent to Mr. Eastman by Ponting, and given to the Eastman House by Mr. Hutchinson.” [sic] [Long-term EKC employee and friend of George Eastman, Charles F. Hutchison, 1875-1974].

The Scott Expedition yielded more than 1,000 photographs and film reels taken and processed by Herbert G. Ponting (1870-1935) in a self-built darkroom/bedroom on the Ross Ice Shelf. Ponting, who joined the team in 1910, was the first professional photographer attached to such an expedition and first to use both color plates (autochromes) and motion picture film in the Antarctic. He had hoped the material would provide a narrative of the expedition that Captain Scott might use for lectures and fundraising upon return to England 1913, but that was not to be.

On January 17, 1912, instead of being able to lay claim to the “discovery” of the South Pole, Scott and his team had the awful experience of “discovery” of the little tent and the Norwegian flag planted there on December 14, 1911 by Roald Amundsen and his five-man team. Scott later wrote in his diary, “It is a terrible disappointment and I am very sorry for my loyal companions. Many thoughts come … Tomorrow we must march on … and then hasten home … All the daydreams must go; it will be a wearisome return.”

Scott and two members of his team died of cold and starvation, on the determined date of March 29, trapped in their tent only 11 miles from a supply depot. The two other members of the team had died earlier on the return trek from the Pole. The bodies of all five were discovered eight months later.

By the turn of the 20th Century, most of the world had been mapped. However, the huge continent of Antarctica was largely unexplored. This sparked “The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration,” the 25-year period from 1897-1922 when 16 major expeditions launched by eight different countries took place.

Most poignant of all the Eastman House material is the moment captured in the single negative. The pencil inscription on the envelope identifies it: “This is one of the negatives which were taken on a roll of Kodak film on January 18th, 1912 – by Lieut H.R. Bowers at the South Pole. It shows the discovery by Captain Scott of the little tent left there by the Norwegian explorer, Capt. Amundsen, who forestalled [sic] Scott by 34 days. On right foreground, Petty Officer Evans / [on] left Captain Scott. / Middle Dr. Wilson.”

Less dramatic in impact perhaps are the 29 clips of motion picture film, which, however, document what are the real accomplishments of these intrepid explorers — the vast amount of scientific data and specimens that were observed and collected that would occupy the world’s scientific communities for decades to come.

Below: Selections from the expedition’s 35 mm nitrocellulose motion picture film strips, ca.1910-1912

 

 

Joe Struble is a native Rochesterian and has lived here all his life with the exception of 4 years spent in Richmond, Virginia where he received a Master’s Degree in Social Work. He has been employed in the Photo Collection at George Eastman House as Assistant Archivist from 1989-2005 and as Archivist beginning in March 2005. One of his greatest satisfactions is in discovery and in adding to the knowledge of material in the Photo Collection.

 

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Why are they called Tintypes? There isn’t any tin!

Posted by on Mar 14 2012 | History, Other, Photography

Well, I guess I forgot how easy it was to make a tintype; no cutting or cleaning glass and no pictures peeling off the plate. This was all about pouring the collodion and making a unique image in the time it takes to make a cup of coffee.

We started on Monday at George Eastman House with an illustrated presentation on the chemistry and history of the wet collodion negative and positive processes. Then we went down to the technology archive where curator Todd Gustavson presented a display of original tintype cameras, silver baths and other rare equipment.

Curator of Technology Todd Gustavson (far left) with group. 

 

After lunch we went to Scully & Osterman Studio where they met my wife, France. I gave a demonstration of making a tintype that included tinting and burnishing the picture. The group then practiced the techniques of pouring collodion onto tintype plates and applying the developer.

Pouring Collodion on the Plate.

 

On Tuesday we all met at Scully & Osterman and after a morning recap on theory the group I gave a demonstration of mixing iron developer and France demonstrated mixing iodized collodion. The group spent the rest of the morning shooting 4 ¼” x 5 ½” plates. After a lunch break they continued to make 5” x 7” tintypes into the afternoon. The students varnished their own plates themselves before shooting the next image. At the end of the day I discussed the basics of identifying antique lens types, explained how a wet plate conversion back works and demonstrated a simple traveling darkroom made from cardboard.

Wednesday we shot all morning. After a great lunch we continued shooting into the afternoon. For the last day in the studio we shot 6½” x 8½” whole plates. Some of the students actually used an original four lens tintype camera that exposes four images simultaneously on the same plate. Late in the afternoon we went back to the Museum and viewed some really beautiful examples of vintage Melainotypes, ferrotypes and tintypes.

 

 

Oh, the term tintype evolved to be the name for all collodion images made on thin sheets of metal; none of which were made of tin. Cheap things in the nineteenth century were often made of tinned iron that was coated with a shiny black finish applied to the surface to prevent rusting. Since Melainotypes and ferrotypes were the cheapest images you could buy and made on black finished sheets of iron…the term tintype seemed to fit nicely. By the way, we didn’t use tin either, we made our tintypes on aluminum.

Our next collodion workshops are Ambrotype Making here in Rochester in May and the Ambrotype and Tintype Workshop at Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock England in July.

Check out more images on our Facebook album for this Workshop.

 

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A Photographic Revolution in Rochester!

Posted by on Feb 14 2012 | History, Other, Photography

Sure, the times are changing and technology moves foreword. Yes, it’s sad that films days are numbered, but quit your whining. There’s another revolution in photography and it’s coming from Rochester, the “image city.”  I’m referring to the counter culture of historic photographic processes and they’re hot. Photographers all over the world are making their own plates and papers— and they’re doing it here at Eastman House.

 

Azo print made with the gelatin emulsion process being taught in April

Tintype being fixed

 

Coating paper in the gelatin emulsion darkroom 

 Scully & Osterman Skylight Studio, where we’ll shoot tintypes in March

 

The revival in the daguerreotype process started at George Eastman House back in the 1970s. Hey, we also jump-started the current craze in collodion photography by teaching the very first wet plate workshops in the mid-1990s. In the last two years we introduced dry collodion plates, collodion chloride printing-out paper and even did workshops in the earliest processes of Niepce, Daguerre and Talbot… the heliograph, physautotype and photogenic drawing! In private tutorials here at the museum we’ve taught albumen on glass and even orotones!

In March we have a great three day Tintype Workshop where we’ll make plates under the skylight over at Scully & Osterman Studio and see amazing original images and even collodion era cameras and equipment from the archives at the museum.

Gelatin silver emulsions are soon going to be the next historic photographic process revival and now is the time to gather information before the culture is gone. This April ex-Kodak emulsion engineer Ron Mowrey and I will teach our third gelatin emulsion workshop!

This is the real stuff for all you people who have been so upset about the demise of emulsion. We’ll be making a simple printing paper emulsion, but it’s the first step to the more advanced film emulsions; so one step at a time. If we get enough interest we’ll give a film and plate emulsion workshop next year, but the prerequisite would be the basic workshop. So, the way to keep film alive…is to make it your self!

Read more about all our 2012 Photography Workshops, or contact me directly at mosterman@geh.org to arrange a private tutorial, custom group workshop or if you need some advice with a process that’s giving you trouble.

 

 

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Celebrating ‘Snapshots’

Posted by on Feb 03 2012 | History, Other

The following essay is from the recently published exhibition catalogue Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard. The book is published by Yale University Press, in association with the Phillips Collection, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The catalogue is edited by curator Elizabeth Easton with contributions from leading scholars, including George Eastman House Curator of Technology Todd Gustavson. His entry, Innovative Devices: George Eastman and the Handheld Camera is excerpted below. Reproduced by permission. 

In the digital age, making photographic images is so very simple—requiring about the same effort as throwing a light switch—that we do so almost without thinking about it. It’s easy to take for granted a process that seems to involve nothing more than pressing the button and instantaneously viewing the picture. But photography has not always been a simple practice. For nearly a half century after its invention, the medium was almost exclusively the domain of professionals. Not until the 1880s, when George Eastman’s Kodak camera and other instruments intended for the consumer-photography market set the cornerstones of amateur snapshot photography, did the camera begin to become a ubiquitous device.

The photographic process, announced in 1839 by the Frenchman Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, captured and fixed the images that were viewed through a camera obscura. This was accomplished through a combination of mechanics (the camera), optics (to improve the image), and chemistry (to sensitize and process the image). Over the next forty years, improvements made to all aspects of the process—cameras, shutters, lenses, and chemistry—led to cheaper and simpler image-making, generating a growing interest for the nonprofessional photographer.

The technicalities of early photography required the photographer, first, to sensitize the media and then to process the image immediately after exposure. Although this system was fine for the professional, it was generally too cumbersome and time-consuming for most amateurs. On April 13, 1880, George Eastman, of Rochester, New York, was issued U.S. Patent No. 226,503 for his machine to coat gelatin dry plates. The following January, with the financial backing of Rochester businessman Henry Strong, he formed the Eastman Dry Plate Company, becoming one of the first commercial producers of light-sensitive photographic emulsions. With reliable plates now available, companies worldwide began manufacturing cameras designed specifically to use them.

Although they were convenient, dry plates had several drawbacks: they were both fragile and heavy to transport. Lightweight, flexible support for photographic emulsion had been investigated starting in the mid-1860s, but without much success. George Eastman aimed his emulsion-making skills at this target and, late in 1884, introduced Eastman’s American Film, which used Rives paper—both flexible and lightweight—as support for its emulsion. Yet because this material was not transparent, during processing the images had to be stripped from the paper support, adhered temporarily to glass for printing, and finally, stored on a “skin” made of a semitransparent plastic. To complement his American Film, Eastman and a partner, William H. Walker (a pioneer builder of cameras with standardized parts), designed and patented the Eastman-Walker Roll Holder, which attached to most existing cameras to allow the use of roll film. To reflect its new product line, the firm changed its name to the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company. Around this time, Eastman built an emulsions-manufacturing plant in London to avoid spoilage problems he had experienced a few years earlier with film that had been shipped across the Atlantic. From early on, he planned to produce and sell his products worldwide; the London plant was the first of many to be located in major European cities.

All things considered, Eastman clearly needed a new product.  Introduced to the public in the September 15, 1888, issue of Scientific American, the Kodak was Eastman’s first successful amateur camera.

These earliest Kodaks and the models developed over the next decade or so represent the beginning of snapshot photography. The snapshot, a term borrowed from hunting, is one taken quickly and without careful aim. Amateur photographers of the time met with derision for this type of shooting; nevertheless, the snapshot meant lots of exposed film and big business for photographic suppliers. Soon, the many new products made for the amateur market eclipsed those made for the professional, revolutionizing the industry. In 1892, to better connect the success of its cameras to their manufacturer, the Rochester firm changed its name to the Eastman Kodak Company.

The handheld camera loaded with roll film was a collector of moments, facilitating the preservation of visual impressions. Many artists frequently used the camera as a sketchbook, a tool for quickly transcribing a likeness that could later be “developed” into a more finished work. They were drawn to its potential for capturing the fast-paced, ever-changing nature of modern life and culture. An early “mobile device,” the handheld camera advanced a fresh way of seeing based on a new way of measuring time. Although the snapshot was not exactly an instantaneously produced image, it represented shorter pieces of time than previous photographic technology had allowed. And the camera’s waist-level perspective—differing greatly from that of the human eye—is readily apparent in many works of art. Frequently, the results were unconventional images that reflected the poet Charles Baudelaire’s influential characterization of modernity as “the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent.”

 

Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard exhibition opens tomorrow at The Philips Collection in Washington D.C.

 

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Forever Brownie

Posted by on Oct 11 2011 | History, Other, Photography

The other day I received an invitation to an exhibition opening, which isn’t unusual, except the envelope was wearing a Baby Brownie stamp. As a fancier of all things photographic, I was much more interested in the stamp than in going to the out-of-town shindig. A couple of research clicks later I discovered that back on June 29th of this year, the USPS issued a set of twelve commemorative stamps honoring Pioneers of American Industrial Design. Among those honored is Walter Dorwin Teague, considered the dean of American design, who styled a number of Kodak products.

My cancelled Baby Brownie stamp

 

I’ve always been curious how this arrangement began. A little research brought me to transcripts in the GEH library of a 1970s interview between Reese Jenkins (now professor emeritus of history at Rutgers University) and Kodak retiree Adolph Stuber. Stuber’s father, William G. Stuber, was hired by George Eastman in the early company days; he went on to be the company CEO after Eastman retired in 1925. Adolph grew up with Kodak and also had a distinguished career in the company himself, becoming manager of the Camera Works in the mid-1920s, then ending up as a company vice president in the sales and advertising department after WWII. It was Adolph Stuber who interviewed and hired Teague, then a fledgling New York City artist, to do facelifts on some of the cameras, as the old designs had become a bit dated. Teague became a design consultant for Kodak for the next thirty years or so. Many of the milestone Eastman Kodak Company products, such as the Baby Brownie (the first injected-molded camera made by Kodak), the Super Kodak Six-20 (the first auto-exposure camera), and the Bantam Special (the first Kodak camera with the f/2 Ektar lens) were Teague designs.

Super Kodak Six-20

Bantam Special

 

The success of the plastic Baby Brownie would prompt the company to produce more cameras of this type. Most Baby Boomers’ photographic experience began with descendants of the Baby Brownie, such as the Brownie Tourist, the Brownie Holiday, and of course the various Brownie Star models. One of the last cameras Teague was involved with was the Brownie Starflash of 1957; it was the first Kodak camera featuring a built-in flash holder. It was also my first camera.

 

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