’We will see… landscapes,’ they announced, ‘in which the trees bow to the whims of the wind, the leaves ripple and glitter in the rays of the sun.’ Along with the familiar photographic leitmotif of the leaves, such kindred subjects as undulating waves, moving clouds, and changing facial expressions ranked high in early prophesies. All of them conveyed the longing for an instrument which would capture the slightest incidents of the world about us.
Film theorist Siegfried Kracauer writing about the dreams of photography pioneers Henry Cook and Gaetano Bonnelli, who in the 1860s invented a device called a photobioscope that combined stereoscope + zoetrope effects to show primitive short “3D” “movie” loops. It’s interesting to think about the decades in which photography was new and exploding in use, but it couldn’t capture the essence of normal day-to-day movement due to the long exposure times.
As an art person I’ve enjoyed a good amount of time around lithography and other drawing media, and now I’m engaged to a children’s book illustrator who largely works in watercolor, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time at art supply shops buying paper. One thing has bugged me for years about our fine rag paper purchases, though: what’s up with the “BFK” in “Rives Arches BFK”? I’ve asked professors, professional printers, other artists, and even the Internet, with no great leads, but I finally coaxed the answer out of Google today. From The Albumen & Salted Paper Book: The history and practice of photographic printing, 1840-1895:
It is no wonder that only two paper mills in the world managed to consistently produce a paper of the necessary quality, and these two mills were able to maintain their monopoly from the 1860’s until approximately World War I. They were the above-mentioned Blanchet Frères et Klébler Co. in Rives, France (hence their product was known as the “Rives” paper) and Steinbach and Company, located in Malmedy, Belgium (at that time part of Germany). Steinbach paper was known outside Germany as “Saxe” paper.
The product that established their paper monopoly (duopoly?) — the exploding new field of photography! More to the point, 3D stereography, the Victorian postcard origin of a Tumblr meme:
In the late 1850’s and especially after 1860, two new factors in photographic technology and practice generated a great demand for albumen paper. The first of these was the stereograph; its ability to transport the viewer to distant scenes with the illusion of three-dimensional reality depended largely on the smooth surface and fine detail of albumen paper. Stereo views were extremely popular, and created a corresponding demand for albumen paper. Nearly all stereo views before 1890 were made on albumen paper.
Via New Scientist, research into an image processing technique designed to mask the actual physical position of the photographer, by creating an interpolated photograph from an artificial vantage point:
The technology was conceived in September 2007, when the Burmese junta began arresting people who had taken photos of the violence meted out by police against pro-democracy protestors, many of whom were monks. “Burmese government agents video-recorded the protests and analysed the footage to identify people with cameras,” says security engineer Shishir Nagaraja of the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology in Delhi, India. By checking the perspective of pictures subsequently published on the internet, the agents worked out who was responsible for them. …
The images can come from more than one source: what’s important is that they are taken at around the same time of a reasonably static scene from different viewing angles. Software then examines the pictures and generates a 3D “depth map” of the scene. Next, the user chooses an arbitrary viewing angle for a photo they want to post online.
Interesting stuff, but lots to contemplate here. Does an artificially-constructed photograph like this carry the same weight as a “straight” digital image? How often is an individual able to round up a multitude of photos taken of the same scene at the same time, without too much action occurring between each shot? What happens if this technique implicates a bystander who happened to be standing in the “new” camera’s position?
Ghostly photos from the Otis Archives depicting a novel circa-1885 piece of scientific analysis equipment: Apparatus for taking Composite Photographs of Skulls. Basically a wood and brass frame with a craniophore in the middle, the tool made it possible to position and align multiple skulls so composite photos could be taken accurately from the front, side, and rear views. The image on the right, for example, is a composite of five or six (or more?) separate skulls. From a contemporary anthropology journal describing the process:
Then the anterior frame and the lateral frame next to the window are lowered ; a black velvet background is hung on the posterior frame ; a large white cardboard is hung on the frame further from the window ; the brass-work is occluded with small velvet screens, and the picture is taken.
The photographs record composites of skulls from various Native American and Cook Island tribes (as seen in the archives of the Clark Institute), so I first thought that the measurements were sadly being undertaken for the sake of scientific racism, the darker side of physical anthropology, which was still in vogue in the 1880s.
That may be the case, but thankfully the full story is somewhat more complex: the inventor of the apparatus, Washington Matthews, an army surgeon-ethnographer-linguist, wrote extensively on the Siouan languages while stationed in the Dakotas, reportedly married and had a son with a woman from the Hidatsa tribe, was initiated into some aspects of the Navajo tribe, and also contributed substantially to the understanding and recording of the Navajo culture, which previously had been considered primitive by the Europeans:
Dr Matthews referred to Dr Leatherman’s account of the Navahoes as the one long accepted as authoritative. In it that writer has declared that they have no traditions nor poetry, and that their songs “were but a succession of grunts.” Dr. Matthews discovered that they had a multitude of legends, so numerous that he never hoped to collect them all: an elaborate religion, with symbolism and allegory, which might vie with that of the Greeks; numerous and formulated prayers and songs, not only multitudinous, but relating to all subjects, and composed for every circumstance of life. The songs are as full of poetic images and figures of speech as occur in English, and are handed down from father to son, from generation to generation.
Frank Zappa as the mystery guest on What’s My Line. Pretty dry, to be honest, although some might find interest in hearing him go into surprising detail about the video-to-film process used in filming 200 Motels(it was shot and edited in PAL video then upconverted to 35mm, a novel process at the time).
The ESO’s Very Large Telescope (I love that name, nicely to-the-point) shoots a sodium-exciting laser towards the center of the Milky Way to create an artificial “star” of light in the sky, helping calibrate its adaptive optics system. Sort of like white balancing your camera, but much, much cooler looking.
Whatever Happened to N.W.A.’s Posse?LA Weekly tracks down all of the guys featured on the cover of N.W.A.’s lesser known first album, perhaps the first photo of gangsta rap. A handful of them were only there to give rides to their friends. For the others, though, this album launched careers that would redefine the 1990’s music landscape (see if you can spot Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren…). Here’s one incredible bit of trivia:
When N.W.A signed with Priority, the group was only the label’s second signed act. The other was the California Raisins. That’s right: The first noncompilation album released by Priority was The California Raisins Sing the Hit Songs. The second was Straight Outta Compton.
Saturn’s moon Enceladus transiting in front of its larger moon Rhea, as seen from a couple million miles away by the Cassini spacecraft, in photographs that span about one minute’s worth of time. That we can know to point cameras at this kind of event and get images this nice is a bit of a wonder to me.
John Balestrieri is tinkering with generative painting algorithms, trying to produce a better automated “photo -> painting” approach. You can see his works in progress on his tinrocket Flickr stream. (Yes, there are existing Photoshop / Painter filters that do similar things, but this one aims to be closer to making human-like decisions, and no, this isn’t in any way suggestive that machine-generated renderings will replace human artists – didn’t we already get over that in the age of photography?)
Whatever the utility, trying to understand the human hand in art through code is a good way to learn a lot about color theory, construction, and visual perception.
Pretend to be Radiohead with this Instructable guide to 3D light scanning using a projector, camera, and a bit of Processing! This is designed to create the visualization seen in the video above, but you could also use the point data for output on a 3D printer, animation package, etc. Neat.
Besuboru Bromides, John Gall’s beautiful collection of Japanese baseball card bromide prints (ブロマイド). The full set can be found on his Flickr account, along with a billion other great graphic arts images. I think I need to trawl through his whole photoset now, and pick up his book Sayonara Home Run!…
The American Society of Media Photographers has a new resource up for people working with digital images: dpBestflow rounds up the best practices and workflows for digital photography, in neat, easy-to-digest pieces, with tips on subjects ranging from camera file formats to desktop hardware to room lighting. If you look at their handy Quick Reference overview, be sure to note that each bullet point links to a more in-depth piece if you’re interesting in drilling down for more info…
From Last Days of Gourmet, a photo set depicting the offices of the now-defunct magazine. There are plenty of better photos in the group, lots of scenes of office supplies in the trash and empty workspaces, but I liked this one the best: evidently someone went all Hawkeye Pierce.
To help further the field of computational photography, a team at Stanford is working on a homebrewed, open source digital camera that they can sell at-cost to other academics in the field. Right now it’s pretty big and clunky-looking, but a camera that can be extended with the latest image processing techniques coming out of the labs would be very sexy indeed. There’s a recent press release that’s worth reading about the team, along with a video and an animation or two to explain the project.
Those that want to tinker with their existing store-bought cameras might want to check out the firmware hacks that are floating around out there, like the excellent CHDK software (GPL’ed, I think) that runs on most modern Canon digital point-and-shoot and dSLR cameras. With a little bit of elbow grease and some free tools you can add a lot of professional(ish) features and scripting support to your low-end camera.
Another paper from the upcoming SIGGRAPH 2009 conference: Dark Flash Photography. The researchers have developed a camera flash that uses a combination of infra-red and and ultra-violet light to illuminate a scene before capture, and an algorithm to denoise and color-correct the otherwise dimly-lit normal digital photo, producing a low-light image that is both noise-free and sharp (no need for long exposure, so no worry about camera shake or the subject moving). Seems like a killer idea, and immensely useful.
The image above is the creepy-looking multi-spectral version – be sure to click through to their site to see the final photo compared with the noisy ambient light version.
Pioneer of medical instruments, photography, and cinema. Took some very interesting early photographs in his research of animal locomotion and physionomy, which led to his successor Muybridge’s famous collections of plates.
I was looking at Robert Frank’s photograph Sick of Goodby’s in his book The Lines of My Hand. Moments before I had been listening to a Johnny Cash song called I Wish I Was Crazy Again. Then I thought of the goodbyes in the book to old friends caught once and for all and never again to be seen in life, and I was struck by the intensity of the sadness of life and its redeeming qualities as reflected in these moving photos. With Johnny Cash as well, the desire to see it all again, to go out one more time into the wild flame only to be burned up forever and never be seen again except in these farewell photos, is moving beyond description. The photos speak of an acceptance of things as they are. the inevitable death of us all and the last photo – that last unposed shot to remind us of our friends, of our loss of the times we had in a past captured only on film in black and white. Frank has been there, and seen that, and recorded it with such subtlety that we only look in awe, our own hearts beating with the memories of lost partners and songs.
To wish for the crazy times one last time and freeze it in the memory of a camera is the least a great artist can do. Robert Frank is a great democrat. We’re all in these photos. Paint dripping from a mirror like blood. I’m sick of goodbyes. And aren’t we all, but it’s nice to see it said.
It is not important at all to me that you or anyone else should have this or that knowledge of anything written or recorded about my pictures of anyone else’s. It’s about experiencing the pictures, not understanding them. People now tend to think their experience of art is based in understanding the art, whereas in the past people in general understood the art and were maybe more freely able to absorb it intuitively. They understood it because it hadn’t yet separated itself off from the mainstream of culture the way modern art had to do. So I guess it is not surprising that, since that separation has occurred, people try to bridge it through understanding the oddness of the various new art forms. Cinema seems more of less still in the mainstream, as if it never had a ‘secession’ of modern or modernist artists against that mainstream. So people don’t trend to be so emphatic about understanding films, they tend to enjoy them and evaluate them: great, good, not so good, two thumbs up, etc. Although that can be perfunctory and dull, it may be a better form of response. Experience and evaluation – judgment – are richer responses than gestures of understanding or interpretations.
The street, in the extended sense of the word, is not only the arena of fleeting impressions and chance encounters but a place where the flow of life is bound to assert itself. Again, one will have to think mainly of the city street with its ever-moving crowds. The kaleidoscopic sights mingle with unidentified shapes and fragmentary visual complexes and cancel each other out, thereby preventing the onlooker from following up any of the innumerable suggestions they offer. What appeals to him are not so much sharp-contoured individuals engaged in this or that definable pursuit as loose throngs of sketch, completely indeterminate figures. Each has a story, yet the story is not given. Instead an incessant flow casts its spell over the flâneur, or even creates him. The flâneur is intoxicated with life in the street – life eternally dissolving the patterns which it is about to form. […]