Friday, January 27, 2012

Evolutionary and Revolutionary

The digital world has transformed photography in a tsunami of creative destruction. Just ask the 131 year-old company Eastman Kodak which just filed for bankruptcy.

"A Science of Picture Taking" was the title of the brochure to the left, one featuring my father in 1940 -- two years before I was born, three years before he was shipped off to Europe, a Signal Corps photographer -- promoting the family business that was established in New York City in 1866. Although a commercial photographic business, mostly furniture pictured in the brochure, it was indeed a science, the right mix of chemistry, light, arrangement, the optics of the equipment, but, mostly, the skill and knowledge of the photographer. The brochure implores the reader to "look at the illustrations and note the accuracy of detail. Observe how clearly the textures of materials stand out, how wood grains, veneers, carved and decorative designs and construction high points are emphasized. Technical skill and years of experience are essential in the production of photographs of this quality."

How things have changed. The digital age has made everyone a photographer and just from the sheer volume of photographs (aka digital images) taken daily, some really professional quality photographs are taken by amateurs using equipment that is completely automatic.

As I was raised in a photographic family, I've had dozens of cameras in my lifetime, worked in my father's studio as a teenager, and adopted photography as an avocation, but not a profession to my father's chagrin. (Towards the end of one of my earliest blog entries Literature and Family is an essay on my father and why I did not go into the business.)

As a kid I had a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye with a flash attachment, but in high school my father gave me his Speed Graphic, a camera I treasured as it was the mainstay of newspaper photography and I felt like a professional when I used it. I became the photographer for our high school yearbook's candid shots -- not easy as everything relied on manual settings, inserting the film sheet, and cocking and releasing the shutter, and with flash photography, changing the bulbs. There was no time to frame photographs or to do bursts of takes. Digital photography is cheap; take thousands of photographs and keep a few of the good ones. The cost of film and development was prohibitive with the Speed Graphic. Better take the right shot once -- that's the only chance you'll get.

Although I chose a different career I still had the photographic itch and bought the famous Nikon F, probably the most significant SLR in photographic history (my F was bought used, but one in perfect condition, which oddly enough I managed to acquire from Ann's Japanese ex-boyfriend who worked at Nikon), eventually adding different lenses, including zooms, and a motor drive. I also set up a darkroom in our bathroom and began to do a lot of black and white photography, expectantly watching prints come to life in the developer. The Nikon was a logical step up from the Speed Graphic with mostly manual controls, but much more portability and flexibility, until, that camera, too, became too much to haul around. So several years later while in Japan on business I bought a new Nikon FM, more compact and it accepted the Nikon F bayonet mount lenses. Most of the photographs of my sons as they grew up were taken with that camera.

Although I was faithful to Nikon FM during the changeover to the digital photographic world, I could not resist experimenting with one of the early digital cameras, the Sony Digital Mavica which recorded onto a 3.5" floppy disk until I finally "graduated," and left my Nikon behind, to a Canon PowerShot A720 IS (I recall reluctantly deserting the Nikon brand as, at the time, the Canon was the best for the money and for the features -- also the digital SLRs were prohibitively expensive then, something I might have considered if I was a professional). Many of the photographs in this blog of our trips were taken with that Canon (although I also carried a HP point and shoot as a backup).

But I come to the point of this history -- the A720 is too bulky to put in my pocket and when we travel, I wanted the next evolutionary model, and not just a simple point and shoot -- the ones which are the most compact -- as I like to have some control over the camera. A process of elimination brought me to the Canon PowerShot 300 HS. It has most of what I was looking for, a 24mm ultra wide-angle lens and 5x optical zoom and 12.1 megapixels so what I can't zoom in on optically, I have a digital alternative, all of this in a package of about five ounces, less than 1 inch thick. Simply amazing. The big selling point for me was its low light capability. How often have you been someplace where flash photography is forbidden or it is simply intrusive? My one regret is it has no viewfinder, but its viewing screen is bright, even in daylight, so compromise was necessary.

Immediately after unwrapping the camera we went to the Art Palm Beach Exhibit at the West Palm Convention Center, and although I am just learning of its myriad features, I had the opportunity to try it out, including some videos. The photographs in this entry are from the Exhibit, except for the very first I took setting up the camera, a low-light experimentation shot as I sat in our family room (reflection of me in the right side of the photo) using only a 100 watt bulb to capture the family room and the kitchen beyond:

I wonder what my father would think of today's digital photographic world. The evolution is truly revolutionary.

Truncated videos of art videos at the exhibit for demonstration purposes only, all rights reserved by their respective galleries, as are all photographs from the exhibit in this entry...

The following document is from the 1950's, when Kodak was king.....