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Posts Tagged ‘photography

“A flash of revelation and a flash of response”*…

 

“A Cellar Dive in the Bend,” c.1895, by Richard Hoe Lawrence and Henry G. Piffard

All photography requires light, but the light used in flash photography is unique — shocking, intrusive and abrupt. It’s quite unlike the light that comes from the sun, or even from ambient illumination. It explodes, suddenly, into darkness.

The history of flash goes right back to the challenges faced by early photographers who wanted to use their cameras in places where there was insufficient light — indoors, at night, in caves. The first flash photograph was probably a daguerreotype of a fossil, taken in 1839 by burning limelight…

In its early days, a sense of quasi-divine revelation was invoked by some flash photographers, especially when documenting deplorable social conditions. Jacob Riis, for example, working in New York in the late 1880s, used transcendental language to help underscore flash’s significance as an instrument of intervention and purgation. But it’s in relation to documentary photography that we encounter most starkly flash’s singular, and contradictory, aspects. It makes visible that which would otherwise remain in darkness; but it is often associated with unwelcome intrusion, a rupturing of private lives and interiors.

Yet flash brings a form of democracy to the material world. Many details take on unplanned prominence, as we see in the work of those Farm Security Administration photographers who used flash in the 1930s and laid bare the reality of poverty during the Depression. A sudden flare of light reveals each dent on a kitchen utensil and the label on each carefully stored can; each photograph on the mantel; each cherished ornament; each little heap of waste paper or discarded rag; each piece of polished furniture or stained floor or accumulation of dust; each wrinkle. Flash can make plain, bring out of obscurity, the appearance of things that may never before have been seen with such clarity…

Find illumination at “A short history of flash photography.”

* J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace

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As we glory in the glare, we might send elegantly-calculated birthday greetings to Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (née Byron); she was born on this date in 1815.  The daughter of the poet Lord Byron, she was the author of what can reasonably be considered the first “computer program”– so one of the “parents” of the modern computer.  Her work was in collaboration with her long-time friend and thought partner Charles Babbage (known as “the father of computers”), in particular, in conjunction with Babbage’s work on the Analytical Engine.

Ada, Countess of Lovelace, 1840

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Written by LW

December 10, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Woe, destruction, ruin, and decay; the worst is death and death will have his day”*…

 

Grossinger’s outdoor pool, olympic sized, built in 1949 at a cost of $400,000 (about $5 million in today’s market.) Long gone are the private cabanas, changing room and lounges that used to surround it.

Not long ago an old matchbook laying on photographer Pablo Iglesias Maurer‘s desk caught his eye. Or rather, it was the postcard-like picture on it, of a resort complex built in the 1960s. It got Pablo wondering how the place looked now, and the answer has led him to make an amazing photo series called Abandoned States.

The picture came with the title How to Run A Successful Golf Course, but when Maurer got to the place, it was clear the owner of Penn Hills Resort didn’t follow that advice. He pointed the camera at the decaying building at roughly the same spot and did a ‘5-decades-after’ shot of the place.

Ever since then, Pablo was hooked. He ordered more 60s postcards from eBay and started going around the country capturing these once beautiful buildings that now stand abandoned only as faint memories of what once was…

* Shakespeare, Richard II

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As we contemplate continuity, we might send never-ending birthday greetings to August Ferdinand Möbius; he was born on this date in 1790.  A German mathematician and theoretical astronomer, he is best remembered as a topologist, more specifically for his discovery of the Möbius strip (a two-dimensional surface with only one side… or more precisely, a non-orientable two-dimensional surface with only one side when embedded in three-dimensional Euclidean space).

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Written by LW

November 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience”*…

 

William Henry Fox Talbot, “A Fruit Piece,” 1845

We have Instagram to thank (or, perhaps, blame) for the proliferation of avocado toast today. But it was another, much earlier development in food photography that introduced us to the avocado in the first place.

In the 1940s, brands like Crisco and Aunt Jemima began to produce “cookbooklets”—free, promotional pamphlets that contained recipes accompanied by vivid photographs touting their products. “In lots of ways, they changed the way, especially in America, that people ate,” explains Susan Bright, author of the recently published book Feast for the Eyes.“Things like avocados and orange juice really became household objects through these cookbooklets.”

Bright’s book, which explores the history of food in photography, reveals that the subjects have been intertwined for nearly two centuries—almost since the birth of photography itself. The medium was introduced to the general public in 1839 with the unveiling of the daguerrotype. Six years later, William Henry Fox Talbot took one of the first photographs with food as its primary subject: a still life containing baskets of peaches and a pineapple…

All of the appetizing story at: “Food Photography Didn’t Start on Instagram—Here’s Its 170-Year History.”

* James Beard

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As we suggest to the cheese that it name itself, we might send a basketful for birthday greetings to Clarence Saunders; he was born on this date in 1881.  A Memphis grocer, he developed the the modern retail sales model of self service– he received U.S. Patent #1,242,872 for a “Self Serving Store”– and thus had a massive influence on the development of the modern supermarket.  His Memphis store grew into the Piggly Wiggly chain, which is still in operation.

The first Piggly Wiggly store

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Clarence Saunders

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“To me, pictures are like blintzes – ya gotta get ‘em while they’re hot”*…

 

Sure. I’d like to live regular. Go home to a good looking wife, a hot dinner, and a husky kid. But I guess I got film in my blood. I love this racket. It’s exciting. It’s dangerous. It’s funny. It’s tough. It’s heartbreaking.  

-Weegee

Weegee wanted his pictures to show some humanity. He walked back about a hundred feet. Set up his camera. Used flash powder and Kazam! There was the whole scene. The corpse. The blood. The cops. The balcony seat of people looking out to see what had just happened. Drama. Humanity. Crime.

Weegee came out of Złoczów now part of the Ukraine. He was born Arthur Fellig in June 1899. He emigrated with his family. They landed New York 1909. Lived in the Lower East Side. His father was a hatmaker and part-time rabbi. Weegee took whatever work came. He became a janitor. Got the nickname “Squeegee Boy.” He hung around with the bums on the Bowery. Started taking photographs. First passport pictures, then commercial work. At the age of thirty-five, he upped his game, quit commercial work, became a freelance news photographer.

He went out nights, hung around the police station waiting for the stories to come in over the teletype. Off he went taking pictures of murders, fires, fender benders, wacko kids on their way to juvie hall. He spent two years with no accreditation following the police all around town. In 1938, the cops gave him his own police radio. Weegee could tune in and pick up on what was happening. Most times he got to the crime scene before the cops. The cops thought he must be psychic. This gave rise to the apocryphal story his nickname was the phonetic spelling of “Ouija.” Weegee added a darkroom to the trunk of his car. He took his picture, developed it at the scene, put his print on the back, and sold it to the papers. During his ten years at police headquarters, Weegee said he must have photographed 5,000 murders—“at least one murder every night.”…

More of the story– and more examples of the extraordinary work– at “Through a Lens, Darkly: Weegee’s Photographs of Death and Disaster.”

For more of Weegee in his own words: “Altering life by holding it still”*…

* Weegee

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As we snap it up, we might send pacific birthday greetings to Mildred Lisette Norman; she was born on this date in 1908.  Better known by the descriptor she gave herself, “Peace Pilgrim,” she was a non-denominational spiritual teacher, mystic, pacifist, vegetarian activist, and peace activist.  In 1952, she became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season; she then walked across the United States to speak with anyone she encountered about peace– and journey that lasted for 7 cross-country round-trips over 28 years.

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Written by LW

July 18, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Photography always acknowledged there were cameras before photography”*…

 

Bernardo Bellotto’s “The Demolition of the Ruins of the Kreuzkirche,” 1765

In an era when photographs are the de facto language of record keeping, memories of modern history before the camera can sometimes feel a tad distant. But people and places did exist before 1839. And in 18th century Europe, the need to produce visual accounts of events large and small was becoming increasingly important. Social and technological developments in the early modern era were buttressing a new sense of global connectivity heralded by the rise of mercantilism and early colonial contact with the New World. It was a period defined by travel and trade, and the lords of Europe must have seen their situation as pivotal enough to commemorate with oil on canvas. The urge to self document is a modern one. A contemporary recognition of history as something worth immortalizing on one’s own terms. In keeping with the technological progress of the time, less than a century later a new medium would be invented to supersede painting’s documentary role.

“Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth Century Europe,” now on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, gathers a series of such canvases by Italian-trained artists of the early modern era—painterly predecessors of breaking news photography. As a response to the increasing awareness of time as a commodity—an ephemeral something worth remembering—painters were commissioned to record the day’s most important spectacles and events. From political rallies and papal visits to public festivals and natural disasters, the images offer an expansive view of life at a time when the boundaries of time and space were opening up enormously—a sentiment reflected in their size and scope. Documentary paintings were one way for those in power to formalize the narrative, “making history” on their own terms and based on their own hierarchy of importance.

More at: “These 18th century painters made eyewitness news images at the dawn of globalization“; see the exhibition at the Getty through July 30.

* David Hockney

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As we believe our eyes, we might send sharply-focused birthday greetings to Jennie Boddington; she was born on this date in 1922.  After a successful career as a filmmaker, she became the first full-time curator of photography for the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.  She was the first such curator in Australia, and perhaps only the third in the world.

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Written by LW

June 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Observation is a dying art”*…

 

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Jason Shulman captures the entire duration of a movie in a single image with his series Photographs of Films.

There are roughly 130,000 frames in a 90-minute film and every frame of each film is recorded in these photographs.

More examples, and the backstory, at “Final cut: films condensed into a single frame – in pictures” and here. See Shulman’s other work here.

* Stanley Kubrick

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As we enjoy our popcorn, we might recall that it was on this date in 2002 that the Cannes Film Festival employed a specially-empaneled jury to judge films from 1939, the planned first year of the festival (which was postponed due to World War II).  The retrospective Palme d’Or went to Union Pacific.

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Written by LW

May 26, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Drive-ins were actually playing a difficult game from the start; the economics of the business were counterintuitively awful”*…

 

Photographer Lindsey Rickert was just seven or eight years old when she went to her first drive-in movie. Looking back now, what she remembers most is magic of the experience itself, “laughing and playing with my friends under the big screen as the cloak of darkness surrounded us and the screen above illuminated our playground.”

Those experiences came flooding back after she chanced upon the 99W Drive-In in Newberg, Oregon, a few years ago. First opened in 1953, the 99W still shows two features a night during the warmer months, and often sells out on weekends. But it has been more fortunate than almost all of America’s other drive-ins. In June 2016, the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association estimated there were just 324 drive-ins still in operation—down from more than 4,000 in the late 1950s.

Rickert’s chance encounter with the 99W sparked the idea to photograph drive-in theaters across the country. She spent a year planning the trip and raising money on Kickstarter before she hit the road: 12,022 miles across 32 states in 65 days. She hit 28 theaters in total—both abandoned and still in operation—and had encounters with former employees, braved bad weather, and learned why it’s important to wear boots in the tall grass. We spoke to Rickert about her ambitious project and resulting book, Drive-In America

More of the back-story, and more photos, at: “A Photographer’s Quest to Find the Last of the Drive-In Theaters.”

* Kerry Segrave, Drive-in Theaters: A History from Their Inception in 1933

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As we roll down the window to mount the speaker, we might send cinematic birthday greetings to Roberto Gastone Zeffiro Rossellini; he was born on this date in 1906.  Perhaps most widely known in the U.S. for his then-scandalous relationship with Ingrid Bergman in the 50s, Rossellini was was one of the leading directors of the Italian neorealist cinema.  His 1945 film Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City) and the other two entries in his Neorealist Trilogy (Paisà [1946] and Germany, Year Zero [1948]) are widely considered classics.

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Written by LW

May 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

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