(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘photography

“Time and tide wait for no man”*…

The week both arranges and imposes on our time…

Among many collective discoveries during the pandemic confinement of 2020, Americans learned just how attached we are to our seven weekdays. As complaints about temporal disorientation mounted that April, we focused not on the clock – the classic metonym for the power and experience of time – but rather on the calendar, and specifically the weekly one. A Cleveland news station affiliated with the Fox Media network entertained viewers with a daily feature, much circulated on the internet, entitled ‘What Day Is It? With Todd Meany’ – the answer to which was always a weekday, not a Gregorian calendar date…

Weeks serve as powerful mnemonic anchors because they are fundamentally artificial. Unlike days, months and years, all of which track, approximate, mimic or at least allude to some natural process (with hours, minutes and seconds representing neat fractions of those larger units), the week finds its foundation entirely in history. To say ‘today is Tuesday’ is to make a claim about the past rather than about the stars or the tides or the weather. We are asserting that a certain number of days, reckoned by uninterrupted counts of seven, separate today from some earlier moment. And because those counts have no prospect of astronomical confirmation or alignment, weeks depend in some sense on meticulous historical recordkeeping. But practically speaking, weekly counts are reinforced by the habits and rituals of other people. When those habits and rituals were radically obscured or altered in 2020, the week itself seemed to unravel…

The history of weekly timekeeping, which is only about 2,000 years old. Although taboos and cosmologies in several different cultures attached significance to seven-day cycles much earlier, there is no clear evidence of any society using such cycles to track time in the form of a common calendar before the end of the 1st century CE. As the scholars Ilaria Bultrighini and Sacha Stern have recently documented, it was in the context of the Roman Empire that a standardised weekly calendar emerged out of a combination and conflation of Jewish Sabbath counts and Roman planetary cycles. The weekly calendar, from the moment of its effective invention, reflected a union of very different ways of counting days…

The crucial formation of our modern experience of weekly time took place around the first half of the 1800s, with the rising prominence of… the differentiated weekly schedule…

The week is the most artificial and most recent of the ways we account for time, but it’s effectively impossible to imagine our shared lives without it: “How we became weekly,” by David Henkin in @aeonmag.

See also Jill Lepore‘s characteristically informative review of Henkin’s book on the week: “How the Week Organizes and Tyrannizes Our Lives” (source of the image above)

* Geoffrey Chaucer

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As we mark time, we might recall that it was on this date in 1839 that John William Draper took a daguerreotype of the moon (the “governor” of months, while the sun determines days, seasons, and years); it was the first celestial photograph (or astrophotograph) made in the U.S.  (He exposed the plate for 20 minutes using a 5-inch telescope and produced an image one inch in diameter.)   Draper’s picture of his sister, taken the following year, is the oldest surviving photographic portrait.

An 1840 shot of the moon by Draper– the oldest surviving “astrophotograph,” as his first is lost

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“The older I get the more things I gotta leave behind, that’s life.”*…

It’s that time of year…

Worried about your carefully chosen holiday presents languishing on a container ship somewhere? We invite you to consider these select Supply Chain–resistant items, up for bid from the world of Sylvester Stallone!

The exclusive auction event presenting the extraordinary collection of the international superstar and the Golden Globe Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated actor, screenwriter, fitness icon, author, artist and director’s most cherished treasures from his singular life and career, [is] taking place on Sunday, December 5th at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills and live online at juliensauctions.com.

Give a piece of Rocky (or Rambo or Cobra or…): “Slice Through the Clutter of the Holiday Giving Season With a Little Something From the Personal Collection of Sylvester Stallone,” from @JOEMACLEOD666, @tomscocca, and the good folks at @Read_Indignity. Do browse: lots of knives…

* Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa

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As we stock up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948 that Edwin Land’s Polaroid Land Camera Model 95– the first “instant” camera, producing finished prints in about a minute– went on sale for the first time.  It was priced at a then-lofty $95 (to wit, the model number).

Polaroid originally manufactured sixty units of the camera. Fifty-seven were offered at Boston’s Jordan Marsh department store for the Christmas holiday.  Polaroid’s marketing department reckoned that the camera and film would remain in stock long enough to manufacture a second run based on customer demand.  In the event, all fifty-seven cameras and all of the film were sold on the first day.  Over 1.5 million units were sold over the next few years, before the company introduced new models.

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“His way had therefore come full circle, or rather had taken the form of an ellipse or a spiral”*…

Simply elaborate, elaborately simple…

Christ gazes out of the page dolefully, head canted and haloed. He seems to float, disembodied, between our world and the next. And, at first, we could step back in sympathy, shocked by the blood that drips like teardrops from those baleful thorns. But something else soon catches light. It might be the ringed texture of his eyeshine or that fingerprint whorl on the nose’s tip. Then we notice the print’s corners, where curves recede as waves do from a skipping stone. It can’t be, we think — but it is. This image was made with a single line…

The full story at: “An Iconic Line: Claude Mellan’s The Sudarium of Saint Veronica (1649),” from @PublicDomainRev.

* Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game

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As we’re tempted to trace, we might recall that it was on this date in 1850 that photographer Frederick Langenheim was issued U.S. Patent #7,784 for “Improvement in photographic pictures on glass,” a process of rendering photographic images on glass plates– magic lantern slides.

Prior to 1850, most magic lantern slides were hand-painted on glass, or created using a transfer method to reproduce many copies of a single etching or print; the development of photographic slides created entirely new uses for the magic lantern, from university lectures to amateur family photo shows… to “Coming Attractions” advertisements in theaters in the silent film era.

Lang

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“A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it”*…

We tend to think of the camera as a neutral technology; it isn’t. In dealing with the vast spectrum of human colors, photographic tools and practices tend to prioritize the lighter end of that range. And that bias has been there since the very beginning…

In 1888, George Eastman introduced a camera that revolutionized photography, making it accessible to thousands of amateurs. Kodak simplified the camera and offered to process film for the consumer. One of the company’s early advertising slogans was: “You press the button, we do the rest.” Kodak quickly grew into the biggest player in the industry. The company became almost synonymous with photography itself — like the Kleenex of cameras.

To meet the booming demand for photo processing and printing services, one hour photo labs popped up all over the country. And Kodak supplied a lot of those labs with printers. Each Kodak printer needed to be calibrated and standardized before photos were printed on it. And so the printers came with something called a “Shirley Card,” which was a color reference card created by Kodak in the 1950s. The original one had some color swatches and a picture of a white woman named Shirley Page, who worked as a Kodak employee at the time.

Kodak would ship printed Shirley cards to photo labs across the country, along with the film negatives needed to print the same image. Lab technicians processed the film, printed it, and ended up with multiple test prints. This allowed them to compare the Shirley card printed at Kodak with the Shirley cards printed in their lab. If something didn’t look right with the colors, they’d adjust. Once the printers were set, they’d start feeding film into the machines.

As time went on, Kodak began including other women on the cards, not just Shirley Page, but the name ‘Shirley Card’ stuck. Also, these new Shirleys all shared a common trait: they were all white, which meant that the printers were effectively set for white skin. And Shirley was basically used to calibrate every printer, every time, regardless of the color of the people in the actual photographs being printed. To get accurate prints of a person with darker skin you might have to adjust the printer settings. But that just wasn’t happening at most one hour photo labs. They weren’t about customized service. They were about being fast, standardized, and relatively cheap.

But way that photography prioritizes white skin goes beyond the role of the Shirley cards. If that were the only problem, it would be relatively easy to fix.

Instead, issues can start much earlier in the process, including with the lighting and camera settings used to capture the picture… the film itself, which was optimized for white skin.

Kodak was slow to adapt, but eventually did — not because they were listening to the complaints from people of color. Rather, Kodak changed their film because they were going to lose the business of two big professional clients: a chocolate company, and a furniture company. Again, it was a dynamic range issue. According to Earl Kage, the former manager of Kodak Research studios, the company had never even considered how expanding the dynamic range of their film would also improve how dark skin tones show up.

By the 80s, Kodak made adjustments to their film emulsions, and eventually introduced a product called Gold Max. Gold Max was leaps ahead of earlier Kodak films when it came to color representation — and the company advertised it that way, but without actually acknowledging the bias that had been baked into the film before. As Kodak started becoming more aware of racial bias in color imaging, they also introduced a multiracial Shirley Card…

But even though the technology of today is way better than the technology of the 1960s and 70s, there is still a lot of cultural inertia preventing dark skin from being photographed in compelling ways. Photography — and cinematography — isn’t just about the film used or the digital sensor in your camera or the techniques used to process your images. It’s also about lighting and staging and all these other elements. In other words, photography is still all about choices. And, in many ways, people still stumble when creating images of darker skin.

Nowadays, it’s much less the technology we’re working against when it comes to accurate representation in images. It’s the users of the technology and the institutions around them, that shape the images we see. Even if Kodak’s early promise was total ease — “you press the button, we do the rest” — the technology will never achieve point-and-click perfection. Because no technology is ever neutral. There will always be choices, and trade-offs and aesthetic judgments. The camera is an amazing tool, but creating a beautiful image…that part is up to us…

Shirley Cards,” from 99% Invisible (@99piorg)

* Edward Steichen

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As we ruminate on representation, we might send well-lit, clearly-realized birthday greetings to Michael Busselle; he was born on this date in 1935. An accomplished photographer, he is perhaps better known as the author of many books of practical advice for photographers. His first book, Master Photography, has sold over a million copies worldwide. As his career developed, so did his sensitivity to the issues explored above; his later books (like The Art of Photographic Lighting) attempt to address them.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 14, 2021 at 1:00 am

“The circus comes as close to being the world in microcosm as anything I know; in a way, it puts all the rest of show business in the shade.”*…

Come one, come all!…

While circus acts go back to the midst of time, the circus as commercial entertainment dates to the opening decades of the nineteenth century. In Victorian England, the circus appealed across an otherwise class-divided society, its audiences ranging from poor peddlers to prestigious public figures. The acts that attracted such audiences included reenacted battle scenes, which reinforced patriotic identity; exotic animal displays that demonstrated the reach of Britain’s growing empire; female acrobatics, which disclosed anxieties about women’s changing role in the public sphere; and clowning, which spoke to popular understandings of these poor players’ melancholy lives on the margins of society.

The proprietor and showman George Sanger (from whose collection the following photographs come) was a prime example of how the circus was to evolve from a small fairground-type enterprise to a large-scale exhibition. Sanger’s circuses began in the 1840s and ’50s, but by the 1880s, they had grown to such a scale that they were able to hold their own against the behemoth of P.T. Barnum’s three-ring circus, which arrived in London for the first time in that decade.

Like many circuses in the nineteenth century, Sanger’s was indebted to the technology of modern visual culture to promote his business. Local newspapers displayed photographs alongside advertisements to announce the imminent arrival of a circus troupe. Garish posters, plastered around towns, also featured photographs of their star attractions. And individual artists used photographic portraits, too (in the form of the carte-de-visite or calling card), to draw attention to their attributes and to seek employment. One striking image in this collection [the image above] poses six performing acrobats amid the other acts—a lion tamer, an elephant trainer, a wire walker, and a clown—in one of Sanger’s circuses, all in front of the quintessential big-top tent. Maybe the projection of the collective solidarity of the circus in this image belies personal rivalries and animosities that might have characterized life on the road. Moreover, at the extreme edge of the image, on the right-hand side behind the dog trainer, there appears to be the almost ghostly presence of a Black male figure. By dint of their peripatetic existence, all those employed in the circus were often viewed as marginal and exotic. However, this image is a reminder of how racial and ethnic minorities were a presence within circus culture, even if, as here, they appear to have been banished to the margins of the photograph.

That most democratic of Victorian popular entertainments: photos from the Sanger Circus Collection.

* E. B. White

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As we head for the big top, we might recall that today is International Yada Yada Yada Day. Lenny Bruce is often credited with the first use of “yadda yadda” on the closing track on his 1961 album “Lenny Bruce – American,” though earlier uses are documented in vaudeville. Employed by comedians and TV shows to convey that something unimportant or irrelevant was being elided, it gained vernacular currency when Jerry Seinfeld’s show featured a variation on this phrase as an inside joke between characters Elaine Benes (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and George Costanza (Jason Alexander).

The Yada Yada,” the series’ 153rd episode, focused on just how badly using the phrase can backfire when the details being omitted are actually extremely important– the fact that George’s new girlfriend is actually a kleptomaniac who steals to kill time, or that Jerry’s new girlfriend is both racist and antisemitic. (That episode also introduced the term”anti-dentite.”) Hilarity ensues when both these unwitting men find out what kind of people they have been dating, and must break off the relationships.

In 2009, the Paley Center for Media named “Yada, Yada, Yada” the No. 1 funniest phrase on “TV’s 50 Funniest Phrases.”

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