Photographica World contains many book reviews for new titles, which range from books on single camera marques such as Leica, to sub miniature cameras, photographic history, biographies of pioneers such as William Henry Fox Talbot and Niepce, and specialist subjects such as early processes (wet plate and Cyanotypes) and even cameras on the moon (Hasselblad).
Book and publisher details are included after each review.
Photography at Length – The Authentic History of Panoramic Cameras – Brian Polden
To say this book has been a long time coming would be something of an understatement – this is made obvious by the foreword which is/was by none other than the right honorable Earl of Lichfield – sadly Patrick Lichfield died in 2005.
The introduction sets the scene for the book, explaining how throughout history man has attempted to render views of 3 dimensions on 2 dimensional surfaces, using whatever technology was available at any given period. The basic concepts thus become the main sections of this substantial book.
The sections are:
1: adjoining images, 2: rotational lenses, 3: rotational cameras, 4: other rotational systems, 5: non rotational systems, 6: non conformists and 7: special applications.
To say this book is a work of considerable depth and breadth (no pun intended) would be putting it mildly.
I don’t recall seeing any book covering a single topic in such detail and clarity.
Most readers will no doubt be able to name a handful of panoramic cameras, and some may even recall having their class photo taken with one, but many of the items detailed here are museum exhibits and/or from patent drawings so are quite likely to be ‘new’ to most of us.
What is to be admired is the way that Brian Polden introduces each section with background information, and explains the problems that were trying to be overcome, then continues with the practical solutions that were used in the relevant cameras, along with examples from the cameras where possible.
Particular favourites for me are the sections on Sutton’s water lenses, where different focal lengths could be obtained by using thicker glass with less water, thinner glass with bigger volume of water, a history of panoramic cameras in the USSR with the FT-2 ‘brick’ and its offshoots (the Horizon and Horizont), and a chapter on the Al-Vista and Kodak Panoram models. One of the first chapters covers the incredible ROTUNDA building of 1800 whereby punters would enter the wooden building, head up the stairs and be rewarded with a full wrap around painted vista of amazing detail.
It can be very hard to decide where to draw the line with any kind of research project. One might imagine that panoramic cameras is a very niche subject, and of finite possibilities, but I’m personally aware of Brian’s obsession with getting it all included after I wrote a piece on underwater cameras for PW back in issue 128. I finished my piece with a casual mention of an item I’d seen illustrated in an auction catalogue. As soon as the PW article was printed Brian contacted me, desperate to know if I had the camera, or a photo or any information about it as he was about to go to print with this book…that was 11 years ago! It makes my point, though that this is a more than just a reference book on the subject – it was the authors intention for it to become THE reference book.
The book isn’t cheap, but it is a really excellent buy, as it has so much information from both a photographic(a) viewpoint and from an historical one. There are literally hundreds of illustrations of the cameras, exploded diagrams, patent information and examples taken with many of the cameras under discussion.
The book is very well printed and the colour illustrations well presented – my only criticism is that the cover is truly dire. Looking more like a 1980’s county council annual expenditure report than a photographic book, I don’t understand why a book that has the word ‘cameras’ in the title doesn’t feature one on the cover!
(Review by Timothy Campbell)
The Bardwell Press , 2019
Hardback, A4, 544 pp.
The Birth of the Idea of Photography By François Brunet
For anyone working in the field of the history of photography, the death of François Brunet on Christmas Day in 2018 came as a great shock. He was only 58, and for many years had been a dynamic and influential force in reshaping how we think about the history of photography. Although he began his career studying linguistics and ancient history, he became interested in visual culture through the work of American photo-historian Peter E. Palmquist, leading to Brunet doing his doctoral dissertation on the pioneering
photographers who worked for the US Federal Survey during the second half of the nineteenth century – such as Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan and W.H. Jackson.
Although he continued to live in France and teach at the Université Paris-Diderot, Brunet established an international reputation as a specialist on the history of American photography – indeed he was the first non-American to be appointed to the editorial board of the journal American Art, in addition to posts he held as editor of History of Photography and as advisor to the European Journal of American Studies. He therefore brought to his scholarly work a truly international perspective as a cultural historian as well as his expertise in literature and semiotics.
In addition to numerous journal articles and book chapters, Brunet’s major works included La Naissance de l’idée de photographie [The Birth of the notion of photography] (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2000), La Photographie: histoire et contre-histoire (Paris: Presses Universitaire de France, 2017) and – as editor and contributor – L’Amérique des images (Paris: Éditions Hazan and Université Paris-Diderot, 2013).
Although the brilliance of La Naissance de l’idée de photographie was recognised at the time, it has taken almost twenty years for it to be translated into English, and it should be noted first of all that Dr Shane Ellis has done an excellent job of translating Brunet’s subtle and nuanced prose into lucid and engaging English. Brunet’s argument, although ambitious and far-ranging, is thankfully free from the heavy conceptual theorising and linguistic abstractions that make reading some French intellectual so laborious. Lest anyone be misled by the cover…
It is also a beautifully produced book, printed on fine glossy paper with some fifty illustrations reproduced in high quality, many of them in colour. These were absent from the original French edition and are a most welcome addition. While many of the images will be familiar to anyone interested in the history of photography, others less so, such as the 1904 studio portrait of Rev John White, and the American daguerreotypes by Charles Fontayne and William Porter.
As one would expect from Brunet, the book is structured around a comparison between French and American cultural developments, divided into two parts: ‘Inventions: The Daguerre Moment’ (pp.15-224) and ‘Refoundings: The Kodak Moment’ (pp.229-349, although the British contribution of Talbot, Herschel and others is discussed at length throughout, with a particularly detailed chapter on Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature.
Brunet’s thesis is that, following Daguerre’s announcement of his discovery in 1839 the French saw photography as an invention, an idea, rather than a specific technology or practice: when the French state gave a pension to Daguerre, purchasing his process and placing it in the public domain to make it legally accessible to all, the official pronouncements of the time emphasised its status as ‘an artless art’, claiming that ‘sun painting’ was too simple to patent (pp.86-7).
In England however, as most PW readers will know, the daguerreotype process was patented and this restriction was closely defended in law, ensuring that photography developed along the lines of a business practice – this was especially true in America.
Brunet explores how this democratic idea of ‘photography for all’ developed during the fifty years that passed between the ‘Daguerre Law’ (1839) and the launch of Kodak (1889), arguing that Eastman’s motto ‘You press the button, we do the rest’ was effectively a rebranding of the French government’s claim that ‘anyone can do it’. His examination of this theme ranges across the different photographic processes and practices of the period, discussing such topics as the commercial economy and exchange of images, the playful ways in which British amateur photography engaged with literature, mythology and painting, the relationship between social class, family photography and political democracy, the scientific, educational and documentary applications of photographic technology, and the influence of writers such as Sigmund Freud, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henri-Louis Bergson and Charles Sanders Peirce in shaping how we think and talk about photography. In the final section Brunet looks at Alfred Stieglitz, who moved away from Pictorialism to espouse ‘straight photography’, and wrote scathingly about the ubiquitous Kodak snap-shooters while himself using Kodak cameras and publishing adverts from George Eastman’s empire in the journal Camera Work, of which he was editor from 1902 until its demise in 1917.
Brunet’s skill in drawing together so many disparate strands makes for illuminating reading, and there is no doubt that this book is destined to become a key text for anyone studying the history of photography. Hopefully this English translation will bring Brunet’s work before a wider audience and lead to other writings of his being read and translated. In addition to a preface written by Brunet shortly before his death, there is an index and a bibliography, as well as a short note from editor Thierry Gervais.
(Review by James Downs)
Hardback, 385 pages, illustrated
Published by RIC Books (Ryerson Image Centre) and the MIT Press, 2019
Hasselblad & the Moon Landing By Deborah Ireland
Although some may say ‘why bother’ with space travel, the ISS, the Hubble telescope, Mars trips etc when the money could be better spent on Earth, there is no denying that putting a man on the moon (and returning him) was one of the most incredible achievements in human history.
Given that July 20th 2019 will be the 50th anniversary of that event, it’s no surprise that there are many books documenting it – this book, while quite brief, and barely scratching the (lunar) surface, is nonetheless a most welcome celebration of the history of the moon landings, Hasselblad cameras and of NASA itself.
Beginning with an introduction by our very own Dr Michael Pritchard, the book in essence is a series of very short spotlights on assorted aspects of the missions, with many behind the scenes photographs and details of the Hasselblad cameras that would eventually be used on the moon’s surface.
Readers may recall an article on the Lunar Surface ‘Blad (PW143) based on my hands on review of the Hasselblad SWC that is held in the archive at the Science + museum in Bradford. At that time there was a surprising shortage of hard facts on just what had been used during ALL missions by NASA, and particularly the Apollo ones.
Thankfully this charming volume now puts those uncertanties to rest with handy tables and charts detailing all of the cameras used, from the Mercury 3 of May 1961, to Apollo 11 of July 1969.
The book is square in format, and is very nicely printed, and as mentioned it reads almost as a series of blogs rather than a detailed analysis – and is all the more enjoyable for it. The information and facts are easy to absorb, and I’m sure the intention was to pique interest, rather than to be the last word on this incredible period.
The facts and figures are one thing, but it’s the images that are the crux for me. As mentioned in the PW143 article, anyone can access the entire series of films via the NASA website https://bit.ly/1r2OSOX , and it’s interesting to compare those scans with those reproduced here.
The book is square which of course suits the 6×6 format of the ‘Blad, BUT some images have been slightly cropped, which I find rather odd. The images were for reference, not for artistic merit (although of course many of the shots are as inspiring as any ‘art’ photograph you can name), so this approach had me wondering why it was done.
The images do look wonderful, until you compare with the NASA online ones (and even those used in the excellent biography of Victor Hasselblad, published in 1981). Many are darker than they should be, and this means the reseau plate marks are virtually invisible in some. It’s not catastrophic, but I point it out for the purists!
Again it might be nitpicking, but all of the focus is on the EL500, while the SWC lunar surface camera which was used for the majority of images EXCEPT for on the Moon itself is barely a footnote, which seems a pity.
Ammonite press have produced several excellent photographic related books all at very affordable prices, and this is no exception – a tenner for a fascinating document of this extraordinary series of missions and cameras – it’s a no brainer.
(Review by Timothy Campbell)
Hardback, 96 pages, 200 x 200 x 12.7mm. 40 illustrations
Published by Ammonite Press
Alternate Processes in Photography. Technique, History and Creative Potential By Brian Arnold
Brian Arnold’s first job was at the Colorado Historical Museum where he helped to make prints from 24 x 20 inch glass plates photographed by William Henry Jackson, a key 19th century American photographer and painter.
Whilst checking on this book’s publication details we came across a most interesting site, https://brianarnold.wordpress which gives many clues to his beliefs and practices in photography, and the surprising fact that his strong interest in Balinese music and Indonesian culture, including music, dance and theatre, preceded his professional involvement with photography. Presently he works as a research fellow at Cornell University on the South East Asia programme.
The book currently sells for wildly different amounts, £32.99 – £58.86 in the UK and its delivery time varies considerably. Oxford University Press market it as a textbook. We feel that the binding and cover are not robust enough for frequent handling. A wire binding and better-quality paper would improve its practicability. In its present form it seems expensive considering its production standards.
Once you have read Arnold’s introduction you know where you stand. This is not a dry textbook but a passionate and personal account of the processes covered, with observations and recommendations on safe practices, particularly chemical safety. There is an extensive glossary and four highly useful pages of relevant web sites. There are many illustrations – two colour sections plus frequent black & white examples within the text.
The central part of this book deals with negative making using digital and darkroom techniques, followed by an introduction to papers and their production methods plus other image support materials. At the heart of the book the alternate processes are described and guidance is given for the reader to safely experiment with: Calotype, Cyanotype, Van Dyke Brown, Platinum & Palladium with sub types, Kallitype & Ziatype, Gum Bichromate, Lifts & Transfers, Wet Plate Collodion, Liquid Emulsion and Combination Printing. This list could keep you occupied for many years.
Although the book has been written and produced in America and includes a few North American products, we feel that it would not affect its usefulness in Britain, and it has certainly been a very pleasant surprise for us.
(Review by Roger & Danièle Bradley)
Paperback, 224 pages, illustrations
Published in the USA by Oxford University Press, 2017
The Secret History of KGB Spy Cameras: 1945-1995 by H. Keith Melton & Lt. Col. Vladimir Alekseenko
There are several books on subminiature cameras that use the term ‘SPY CAMERA’ as an almost generic term, as if any camera that is smaller than 35mm is or was by default used in espionage (not true at all). As a keen collector of subminiature cameras I have most of the books that are on the subject, so was fairly blasé about this latest title from Schiffer – I soon changed my tune.
The cover has an image of a hand holding the tiny, relatively well known AJAX 11 (F 21), a camera that is rather like a miniature version of the clockwork ROBOT camera. The miniscule size and complexity of the AJAX is really quite amazing, but the cameras featured within these pages are truly astounding, making the AJAX a virtual also ran.
Written in association with two senior KGB officials, the book details the history not just of the cameras used by the KGB, but also the KGB itself. Thankfully the authors do this in a very breezy manner, so even though there are hundreds of acronyms used, it’s very light reading – helped by a thorough glossary on pages 175 to 183 (I said there were a lot!)
Most readers will be familiar with the stereotypical spy use of sub min cameras from film and TV, so the bigger budget films (Bond, Harry Palmer) used a minox, the low budget TV shows (Man in a suitcase, Danger man) used the Mamiya 16, and coupled with later period surveillance cameras that’s about as ‘secret’ as things get. Post USSR there has been a steady stream of ingenious fake spy camera sets come onto the market, mostly based on the Russian 16 mm cameras – John Player Special cigarette packet being a perfect example.
However this book reveals just how spectacularly clever the Russians were at pushing available technology to limits that even the best of the spy writers would never dream of.
When I saw the first digital ‘roll over’ scanners in the early noughties I thought I’d seen the future. To read about and see images in this book that showed that the KGB had working cameras that fitted inside a cigarette packet, that used mirrors and in built lighting to expose a roll of 8x11mm Minox film as you dragged said fag packet across the top secret document in 1951, I could not believe my eyes.
But the miracles go on – working ballpoint pen with lens built into push button end? They did that in 1965. Ladies leather hand bag with concealed clockwork FED and remote release? That was 1947. Pinhole lens camera with 1/50th shutter speed built into working ladies lipstick? That took a while longer – 1975. All these examples are given along with dates, details of manufacture and the difficulties with use in the field (primarily due to film jamming, even with ultra thin emulsions).
The reasons for needing certain types of camera are fully explained, from the obvious one of document copying, to remote surveillance and perhaps the ‘dirtiest’ of all – the use of entrapment. We’ve all seen films where the private eye waits in his car to take a snap of the silhouetted romeo behind the backlit curtains of a sleazy hotel room. In reality it took more involved work than that. Choosing a room next to the hotel room where the liaison was to take place, the agent would carefully drill through the wall days in advance, to make the tiniest hole in the adjoining wall, they then used a Zinnia 35mm camera with a multitude of extension tubes to take 1mm pinhole images of the most compromising content!
The book has 11 chapters, broken down into main subjects such as Agent Document Copy Cameras, (mobile and rollover), surveillance cameras (mobile, portable), etc and extra chapters on history, glossary and bibliography. Apart from many photographs of each item, and sample images in some cases, there are also the original watercolour illustrations that were used to train operatives for each of the secret photography techniques needed.
The ONLY criticism I make of the book is that there’s often no scale of reference in the images – so although you can fully appreciate the build and complexity of the cameras, it would have induced even more wonder to see that ballpoint pen at size, rather than over sized as shown, but this is indeed a minor point.
For anyone remotely interested in subminiature cameras – this book is an absolute must have.
For anyone who wants to get a taste of the ‘real’ world of espionage, it’s a must have.
For everyone else – this book is a must have!
(Review by Timothy Campbell)
Schiffer Publishing Ltd
23.5 x 2.5 x 31.8 cm , hardback
Photography: The Unfettered Image By Michelle Henning
When I studied at Ealing Technical College sixty years ago, little did I think it would convert into the University of West London one day. Under its roof sits the London School of Film, Media and Design with author Michelle Henning as Professor of Photography and Cultural History. Her book aims to show that digital imaging has accelerated the mobility of photographs and she argues that, following the creation of photography, images were liberated. That is, modern pictures can travel, be transferred, projected, translated, fragmented, reconstructed, and reversed. She demands a revised version of photographic history, which acknowledges her hypothesis that the initial capture of an image presents the opportunity to use it in many ways. That is to say, it is mobile and lends itself to different outlets.
Her chapters pursue this concept that photographers have a freedom to express their work in new directions and she gives the example of the mobile phone’s adaptability in conjuring up images that are themselves versatile. With some justification, the professor asserts that the past interpretation of history should be modified, but I think this is unfair. Photography evolved out of the trials, tests and experiments of amateurs and gentlemen of the middle classes. There were no companies or big organisations to do the job for them. That came later. For over 150 years, photography has been adapting to new technology, new chemistry and new thinking… and this adaptation has been possible because it is unfettered. That is, there are no restraints on how it should be used, where it can be used and why it is used. By chapter five, called Second Nature, I began to understand her proposition.
I was disappointed she used the word ‘solarization’ where the correct term is ‘the Sabattier Effect’ but more than disappointed when the term ‘microphotography’ described a photomicrograph, which is a picture secured via a microscope. Many of Michelle Henning’s words are ones that I do not use and caused my reading to stumble when I encountered, for example, superficiality, instantaneity, biocentricism, and fetishise. The use of ‘situates’ occurs far too often, especially as she managed ‘to situate’ her verb in places where others would be more explicit. In a book on photography, by a professor of photography and packed with photographs, some examples of the author’s own work would have strengthened many of her claims.
Time and again paragraphs deviate from the main thrust of the text and although two pages on the application of electricity (including Frankenstein) make interesting reading, these interrupt one’s concentration from the explanation about the evolution of the telegraph. In a similar criticism, a short treatise on the Memex machine, (which is an imaginary contraption for creating “new forms of encyclopaedia… with a mesh of associative trials running through them”) led, the professor claims, to becoming one inspiration for the development of hyper-text.
The book had to conform to the requirements of cultural history and with this understanding, I have no objections. It does it well with a mass of dependable references and an exhaustive bibliography… but I would have liked to have seen more discussion of practical photography.
(Review by Dr R M Callender, FRPS)
Paperback, 204 pages, illustrated
Published by Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, 2018
FLASH! Photography, Writing & Surprising Illumination By Kate Flint
As I opened the book for review, I looked forward to reading the 390 pages of Flash by Kate Flint of the University of Southern California. ‘Gulp,’ I muttered on encountering the word ‘ekphrastic’ on the opening page. The book was not going to be a technical one but the author, the Provost Professor in art history and English, endeavoured to explain her motivation. The brevity of pictures taken in a flash, by flash, with flash and without flash fascinated her. When she started to wonder about the connection between flashes of lightning and flash photography, this prompted her to think about the history of flash photography and its relationship to the broader cultural histories of photography.
Soon I realised her text was on an academic level and that much of her vocabulary, explanations and reasoning differed from my own outlook on photography, (which had developed out of sixty years of professional practice). I had to remember the professor was not a photographer by my definition but her responsibility was to make use of, and apply a new way of thinking; that is, critical theory. This was in my mind as I set to.
With notebook and pen by my side, I skimmed the contents, cheerfully noting there were 23 introductory pages, 74 pages of references, and an index of 13 pages. Her research has been thorough and ranges around the world, from the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh to Paris, from Chicago Tribune to National Geographic Society. The book asks ‘what part might flash have played in popular responses to the activity of photography… to understand why flash photography was treated first with awe and amazement, then with amusement, and then with increasing resentment for its intrusive effects.’
Throughout her chapters, from Flash Memory to Stopping Time, and from Theatrical Light to Flash’s Aesthetics, Kate Flint endeavours to do justice to her own probing. She admits a revelation inasmuch as she was made very aware of the complex imbrication (her word, not mine!) of photography. That is, she says, it exists in many ways – in social and artistic practice, as individual prints and as portfolios, as a profession or a hobby, and noted that a photograph can be breath-taking or just very ordinary. Photography has created a vocabulary to describe effects, aesthetics and associations.
In places, reading is slow in order to grasp her hypotheses and theories which, in justification of her own rubric, deflect into laboured explanations which answer her own self-imposed questions. Of course, the reader will not agree with everything she proposes but the book is a brave attempt to establish a specialised account of photographic history and, simultaneously, secure a place for the subject in modern culture at a time when electronic imaging is forcing new ways to undertake photography where the ambient light is non-existent.
(Review by Dr R M Callender, FRPS)
Hardback, 493 pages, illustrated
Published by Oxford University Press, 2017
Photography and Sport (Exposures series) By Mike O’Mahony
Mike O’Mahony is Professor of History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of Bristol. He is the author of Sports in the USSR (2006), Sergei Eisenstein (2008) and Olympic Visions (2012), all published by Reaktion Books.
The rise of modern sport in the mid-19th century coincides with the emergence of photography as a new image-making medium, and both
practices developed in parallel.
Although early technological limitations restricted the possibilities for capturing sporting action, many early photographers nonetheless embraced sport as a powerful subject for their work, a trend that has continued throughout history.
Photography and Sport traces the close relationship between photography and sport, from its beginnings to the present day. Taking a unique thematic approach, O’Mahony describes the early sporting images, the impact of technological developments on sporting photography and the establishment of new visual conventions for the representation of sport in the popular illustrated journals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He examines the use of images of sport for commercial and advertising purposes, the gender politics of sporting practices, and the photographic representation of the sports spectator and of non-professional sport, exploring their impact on wider socio-political issues along the way.
The first photographic representation of a sporting subject was, perhaps unsurprisingly, produce in the sport-loving United Kingdom. This, however, was not in the leafy surroundings of the English metropolitan centres where some of the earliest sports clubs had been established, but rather in the east lowlands of Scotland. As is widely acknowledged, two Edinburgh-based photographers, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, were among the most prolific and artistically significant, early practitioners to adopt the new medium. Widely esteemed in their day and then largely forgotten for a century, Hill and Adamson are now much celebrated for their early use of the Calotype (or Talbot-type), a process develops by the Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot in the 1830s. It is interesting to read that as this process had been patented in England, but not north of the border, Hill and Adamson freely exploited the new medium to produce, among other works, portraits of the elite in Edinburgh and St Andrews. Little attention, however, has been paid to their representations of figures explicitly identifiable as sportsmen, despite the fact that these images constitute the very earliest examples of photographic representations of sport. An excellent example, taken in 1843, is a no doubt carefully staged pose of a male tennis player – interestingly just visible is the stool behind the subject to help him maintain his pose during the long exposure time.
In 1878, sponsored by a wealthy racehorse owner, Anglo-American photographer Eadweard Muybridge took his famous set of photographs depicting the movements of a galloping horse. These had been taken using a battery of twelve cameras, each triggered by a trip wire as the horse passed in front of a white painted screen. Unfortunately, no details are given of the cameras used in these or any other images shown in this book. Muybridge’s projects included women in long dresses and straw hats playing tennis (1887) and naked cricketers and athletes performing. His focus on football and baseball certainly reflected the popularity of the sports in the United States at the time. However, his experiments were soon put on hold, largely as a consequence of Muybridge’s highly publicised trial, in which he was acquitted, for the murder of his wife’s lover.
Featuring some of the most significant sports photographs of the last 150 years, this in-depth history will appeal to cultural historians, sports fans and all those with an interest in the history of sport or photography.
(Review by Jonathan Hill)
Paperback, 200 pages, illustrated
Published by Reaktion Books
Carleton Watkins: Making the West American By Tyler Green
Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916) was one of the pioneering greats of early American photography, having moved from New York to San Francisco in search of gold in 1851. He did not take up photography until 1856 but within two years he had moved on from ‘taking ambrotypes of babies’ to working independently as a landscape photographer and obtaining introductions to the region’s literary, artistic and intellectual elite.
PW readers will be pleased to learn that, unlike the Photography and sport book reviewed above, cameras are discussed in detail. In 1861 when Watkins headed up to Yosemite, the largest commercially-available cameras used 13” x 16” glass negatives. Using cabinet-making skills learned from his father, Watkins built bigger cameras that could carry a ‘mammoth plate’ that measured 18” x 22”, creating practical challenges for handling the plates and transporting the large quantity of chemicals required into the mountains. These mammoth plates created prints more suitable for framing than placing in albums, a further indication of Watkins’ vision of photography as a fine art.
Watkins returned from Yosemite with thirty mammoth plates and one hundred stereoview negatives, images that caused a sensation when displayed as few people outside California had seen this spectacular landscape. Partly on the strength of Watkins’s photographs, President Abraham Lincoln signed the 1864 bill that declared the valley inviolable, thus paving the way for the National Parks system that was created in the year of Watkins’ death.
The book traces Watkins’ life and career over the next two decades, including international acclaim, awards and travels through British Columbia, Mexico, Yellowstone, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Arizona. Quite apart from its photographic perspective, the book provides a fascinating introduction to this transformative period of American history. Watkins took up dry-plate photography in the 1880s, and the end of his career coincided with the explosion of ‘Kodakery’ that allowed unskilled amateurs to flock to areas like Yosemite and take their own photographs with a tiny fraction of the effort previously expended by Watkins. Despite his photographic skills Watkins was a poor businessman and declared bankruptcy in 1875, losing all his work to creditors before declining into ill-health and eventual committal to an asylum, by which time the 1906 San Francisco earthquake had destroyed his studio, negatives, prints and business records.
Given the consequent absence of almost any archival material with which to begin his research, the author has done an extraordinary job in reconstructing Watkins’ life. This is not only the first biography of Carleton Watkins, it is also the first book by art historian Tyler Green, who manages to fill in the gaps by painstakingly piecing together fragments from various historical records, letters, adverts, ephemera and directories. The effect is rather like a blindfolded man inching his way slowly through a room, feeling every surface with his hands and describing what he feels. The gradual accumulation of detail provides an almost immersive experience, as Green takes as through the Californian Gold Rush and Civil War, the intellectual world of Emersonian Transcendentalism, early large format photography, the marketing of landscape images, relations with (and exploitation of) the native indigenous people of America, Eadweard Muybridge, John Muir and landscape conservation… this is an expansive book that covers an enormous amount of ground.
Writing this biography has clearly been a labour of love. Reading it was certainly a real pleasure. The book has been beautifully produced, with over 70 illustrations – some full-page – in colour, sepia or black and white. As an extra treat, the dustjacket unfolds to reveal a poster of Watkins’ photograph of El Capitan, the striking vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park.
(Review by James Downs)
Hardback, xvii + 574 pages,
240 x 160 x 40 mm. 74 illustrations
Published by University of California Press
The Book of the Leica R-series Cameras By Brian Long
The R-series emerged at a difficult time in Leica’s history, following the generally poor reception given to the M5 and the lack of profits made by the Leicaflex series – which had been launched in 1964, some 28 years after Exakta presented the first SLR for 35mm film, the Kine-Exakta (as documented by Roland Zwiers in the last issue of PW.) In the intervening years, Nikon and Pentax had launched their own successful SLR lines. Clearly, Leica had some catching up to do. Realising the need to strike out in a new direction, the R3 was developed in cooperation with Minolta and closely resembled in appearance the Minolta XE. The R3 came out in 1976 and was the first Leica SLR camera to offer automatic exposure. Over the next three decades a succession of R-series cameras and lenses were released by Leica, and the story of this development forms the essence of Brian Long’s book.
There are six chapters, the first of which is devoted to a brief history of Leica, tracing the company’s history and setting the background from which the R-series emerged. Chapter Two looks at the R3 (1976), Chapter Three the R4 (1980), Chapter Four the R5 (1986) and R-E (1990) lines, Chapter Five the R6 (1988) and R7 (1992), with Chapter Six covering the R8 (1996) and the R9 (2002), and finally the announcement in March 2009 that the line had come to an end.
One of the interesting things about the R-series is that it was made possible through a collaborative effort between Leica and Minolta, and one of the strengths of this book is the way the Leica story is placed within the wider context of the international camera industry – particularly the manufacture of Japanese SLRs.
In each chapter the author explains how the different models developed, taking the reader through the specific improvements and changes, what Leica were trying to achieve and why, and – importantly – how their products compared with what was available elsewhere in terms of prices, features and function.
Although the book was made with the full support of Leica and therefore includes valuable insights into the decisions and activities of the company and its factories, there is a refreshingly international scope to the illustrations, which include contemporary adverts from British, American, German and Japanese publications, catalogue photographs and technical diagrams, portraits of Leica staff at work or in meetings, as well as numerous tables providing information on serial numbers and camera specifications that will be particularly useful for collectors. A number of R-series catalogues or instruction manuals are reproduced in full, spread over several pages, but while these are of some interest it could be asked if they are really the best use of the available space,
particularly as the minute text is rather hard to read. There are a few illustrations in which the quality of the reproduction is a little disappointing, although this may have been a consequence of the original material.
The author has done admirable work in clarifying many of the complex queries regarding serial numbers and precisely when certain features or design changes were introduced, navigating between conflicting details found in catalogues or advertising ephemera and the evidence of physical models that he has been able to examine.
It may come as a surprise to learn that Brian Long is a trained mechanical engineer and classic car enthusiast, with a background in the automotive rather than photographic industry – and he is not averse to borrowing language from this (e.g. pages 16 and 142).
Even for those without a strong interest in the Leica brand or technical aspects of the different camera models, The Book of the Leica R-series Cameras is an enjoyable read that covers many aspects of the post-war camera industry up to the introduction of digital technology. For those who love their Leicas and have used and/or collected the R-series, this book will be essential.
(Review by James Downs)
Hardback, 144 pages, 26 x 26 x 1.8 cm, fully illustrated
Published by Earthworld an imprint of Veloce Publishing Ltd, 2019
Photography and the 1851 Great Exhibition By Anthony Hamber
This book represents twenty years of research into the role and impact of photography at the Great Exhibition, particularly the way in which this momentous event changed the ways in photographs were used, distributed and perceived (by the public, by photographers themselves and in law.) Published in October 2018 to coincide with the opening of the new Photography Centre at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the book draws heavily on the extensive photographic collections and archives of the V&A.
As one expects with any publication produced under the auspices of the V&A, the book is sumptuously produced and beautifully illustrated.
One feature that is particularly welcome is the reproduction of all 154 photographic images from the presentation set of the Reports by the Juries, originally published in four volumes in 1852. This is by no means a mere ‘coffee table book’ however, and Anthony Hamber offers a detailed, probing and often critical examination of the ways in which the Great Exhibition engaged with photography and photographers, and the impact it had on the related Victorian arts of illustration,
publishing and printing.
The author has undertaken a
massive amount of original research over the years, and the book helpfully begins with a discussion of the historiography of the Great Exhibition before moving on to examine the state of photography in 1851. This allows him to point out some of the weaknesses and omissions in previous writings on the Exhibition, as well as the inaccuracy of many of the sources and the challenges of
establishing precise details of important events and behind-the-scenes administrative processes.
The second and third chapters of the book are devoted to the processes of selection and exhibition, and include detailed plans of the Crystal Palace galleries in an attempt to reconstruct exactly how and where photographers displayed their work. Chapter Four – the longest in the book – provides a fascinating study of the ways in which the relationship between photography and commercial illustration evolved during the Exhibition, including comparison of woodcuts and engravings based on daguerreotypes, panoramic views of the Exhibition, illustrated catalogues, the use of colour printing processes and the various issues that arose regarding copyright and legislation.
Chapter Five presents a bibliographic study of the Reports by the Juries, painstakingly piecing together the history of the five different editions that were produced, and looking at how the photographs that illustrated the presentation volumes were selected, commissioned and printed. Chapter Six, ‘Aftermath and Legacy’, examines events immediately after the Exhibition was closed and dismantled, revealing how a number of individuals took up photography as a consequence of what they had seen there, and tracing this legacy through the subsequent decades – including reference to a reunion in 1931 at which 370 people who had attended the Exhibition got together to reminisce and share memories and souvenirs. These six chapters comprise the first half of the book, with the second half containing six appendices that provide valuable information on the contents of the Reports of the Juries, including lists of prize-winners and an examination of the processes by which the
negatives were printed.
While the book cannot help but celebrate and highlight the achievements of the Exhibition and the fine photographic work that it supported and promoted, it is at times equally critical in pointing out the many flaws and failings in how these matters were handled – from the ‘patchy, metropolitan-centric coverage’ of the selection process (p.31), to the debacle in 1846 over the mass production of calotypes for the Art Journal (p.57) and an incident in which a sculpture was broken by over-zealous photographers during an after-hours photoshoot (p.119). As these examples suggest, the book covers a wide range of different photographic practices relating to the Great Exhibition.
Unsurprisingly, most of the great names in British photographic history – Talbot, Brewster, Playfair, Henneman, Rejlander, Claudet, Beard, Bingham, Hunt et al – make an appearance, but as the topic is how the Exhibition impacted upon photography, there is also ample
discussion of how the lives and work of lesser-known photographers – both amateurs and professionals – were involved in, or affected by, the Exhibition and its legacy.
The international scope of the book is most welcome, and the discussion of French, German, Italian and American photographers who were involved in the Exhibition offers some refreshing perspectives.
Throughout the book there are continual reminders – such as ‘yet to be identified’ (p.13), ‘has yet to be located’ (p.116) or ‘has yet to be fully established’ (p.129) – that this research is part of an ongoing process, and in his Introduction the author clearly states that the book is not intended to be definitive: ‘nevertheless if it can act as another milestone on the journey and encourage others to pick up the baton, it will have served its purpose.’ (p.xix).
Whoever picks up the baton from Anthony Hamber will be immensely grateful for both the scope and the quality of his work, for our understanding of the Great Exhibition and mid-Victorian photography has been greatly enriched by this book.
(Review by James Downs)
Hardback. 396 pages, 22 x 31 x 4 cm. Illustrations, with folding floor plan of the Crystal Palace in pocket at rear.
New Castle, Delaware and London: Oak Knoll Press and V&A Publishing, 2018.
Museum Leica By Lars Netopil
The author of this book, Lars Netopil, is both a Leica dealer and a Leica historian, based in Wetzlar. He also acts as a consultant to various parties, including Leica AG, about the history of Leica and its various cameras, lenses and other products. He is a person who I consult with myself from to time if I come across something rare or out of the normal course and I find him to be unfailingly helpful and informative.
Fellow Leica Historian Jim Lager tells me that he has been pressing Leica to establish a full blown museum at Wetzlar, the birthplace and current home of the Leica, for many years.
Now It seems that Leica AG and its Chairman , Dr Andreas Kaufmann, are fully committed to opening such a
There have been some displays at Wetzlar and Solms, including the famous ‘Leica tree’, but nothing that could be called a substantial museum devoted to the fabulous history of Leica.
Already the Leica Archives have been established, of which more later. The company is very lucky to have someone with Lars’ knowledge living nearby. We are lucky too as Lars has produced a large book (in two volumes in a slip case, totalling 671 pages) to show what the Leica Museum will contain when it opens. This is not a chronological listing of Leica models, such as appears in the wonderful books by Lager, Laney and van Hasbroeck, but it is a series of images of important Leica models, prototypes and works in progress – in roughly chronological order – which spell out the entire history and development of Leica cameras, lenses and accessories.
The format is a brief text introduction to the subject or subjects of each chapter, followed by thumbnail photos of the items for identification purposes and then the photos of the items in double, full and half page photos.
In a short review like this it is very difficult to do justice to the treasures which this vast work contains and so I will just mention a few examples. The first example is the very first ‘Leica’ camera which was not called a Leica (the name came much later), but rather a ‘Liliput camera’, because of its small size, by its creator, Oskar Barnack. Today this is known as the ‘Ur-Leica’
There have been rumours about the existence of another Ur-Leica, but no real evidence has come forward and both Lars and Jim Lager have confirmed their belief that only one exists.
The exhibits in the book proceed through the first small series production with the 0 (Null) Series of 1923 and the first mass production with the I Model A in 1925. Leica cameras are, of course, inextricably linked to the concept of a rangefinder, even today. One of the first studies for a camera fitted with a rangefinder took me aback as it consisted of a Leica I with a rangefinder attached at the front as in this photo of Leica I No 23433.
The book goes on to show how a rangefinder and rangefinder housings were developed by Barnack along with his associate Wilhelm Albert with Barnack having a big input into the design and appearance of these items which will be familiar to those who are users of current digital M models today.
It is remarkable how such work on features in the early 1930s has lived on almost 90 years later in Leica’s model range today.
A lot of Leica enthusiasts will associate the concept of a film wind on lever with the introduction of the M3 in 1954, but Leica workshops were experimenting with this concept in the mid 1930s by the example (photo above, bottom left)’ of a planetary gear box winding mechanism with a wind on lever.
As well as the wind on lever example, the book also shows examples of early Leica experiments with bayonet mounts on lenses and cameras in the 1930s, something that was not finally introduced until the M3 appeared. Speaking of that camera, the book also shows design studies where Leica engineers compared both wind on knob and lever wind options for the M3.
In the second volume, Lars features a wide range of Leica items including special editions, digital prototypes, lenses, military Leicas and Leica copies. In the lens section one of the prime exhibits is this prototype piece for the Noctilux from 1966 with some original design drawings.
The entrance lobby to Leica AG in Wetzlar contains, among many items, some examples of Leica copies and fake Leicas. These also appear in the book by Lars and I presume that they will eventually appear in the Museum itself when it is completed.
These copies are looked down upon by some Leica enthusiasts , but Leica is rightly proud of the fact that its creations were copied in many different countries around the world.
The collection which will appear in the Museum is, apart from some examples in the lobby and around the factory area at Leica AG, largely housed in the Leica Archives.
The collections of some major collectors , such as Rolf Fricke who lives in the USA, have been acquired by the archives. The archives also include a great deal of other material including literature, records and original drawings. I was privileged to visit the archives while I was in Wetzlar at the Leica Historical Society of America AGM in October 2018.
Finally, to illustrate the wide range of items in the book and in the Museum which will follow here is an under-water housing for a Leica, which was built for the US Navy
Lars told the LHSA group in Wetzlar that this was one of his favourites in the Museum collection. Like other underwater gear this is in a bright colour instead of the usual Navy grey.
This book would be an essential addition to the library of any Leica historical enthusiast. I fall into that category and I am perhaps biased because I know Lars. I therefore showed the book to a fellow camera collector, who is also a professional photographer and who has produced hundreds of superb photos of historical cameras of another maker, and he said that he was hugely impressed by the book and the breadth and range of its contents. Lars has done us all a huge favour by producing such a book in advance of the opening of the museum. The introduction in the book by Dr Andreas Kaufmann, Chairman of Leica AG, makes it clear that the company is fully committed to the museum project. The heritage of Leica is one of the most attractive features of the brand. This book is a massive contribution to our understanding of that heritage.
The book is available for purchase online from Lars Netopil Classic Cameras, Leica Stores and the LFI Shop.
(Review by William Fagan)
Hardback, two volumes in slip case. 672 pages, 21×30 cm, over 600 illustrations. Text in English and German.
Published in 2018 by Lars Netopil Classic Cameras
George Washington Wilson: Artist and Photographer by Roger Taylor
This book is the latest to come from the reborn ‘London Stereoscopic Company’ and is a sort of reprint of a book originally published in 1982. It’s a sort of reprint in that the 1982 edition was very poorly printed and most unforgivably for a book on stereo photography that edition rendered many of the images as single images, something which must have been unbearable for the author. Thankfully for Roger Taylor his knowledge of stereo images would bring him into contact with another very well known stereo enthusiast and collector – Brian May.
So, the end result is a meticulous printing of (essentially) the text of the 1982 book, but with all images printed to the very best that they can be.
The book is very rich pleasure for not only does it cover in detail the life and work of one of the greatest exponents of stereo photography at a fairly early stage in photographic history, it also provides a wealth of information on the development of photography, photographic processes and photography as an art form from the realm of wealthy enthusiasts, to the viability of every person to hold a copy of their likeness in their hand.
That George Washington Wilson was a very astute business man is an understatement, but what I found most captivating was his definite sense of artistry – I’ve never warmed to successful businessmen as such (hence my dislike of most things Kodak related), but when that business sense is put together with a determined effort to provide enduring images that are of the highest artistic merit, then I take notice.
The book follows a basic chronology of the Wilson family line, and explains without ever labouring the point, the social situation of the time.
Wilson was ‘lucky’ to be working in Scotland just as Queen Victoria and prince Albert became enamoured of the place, but if he hadn’t had the vision to make the most of his royal appointment, and produce images that showed a human aspect to HRH, it wouldn’t have been so successful – he certainly made the most of his ‘luck’ – and having the ‘by royal appointment’ on his business card was handy!
Wilson was very astute in keeping up with trends for the masses, and he had no qualms about changing the popular print size if it could benefit his business. He was canny to realise that after many years of popularity, stereocards would eventually be passé, so he started printing them up as singles with great sucess (talk about money for old rope!), and he was also a very early adopter of the ‘cabinet’ sized print.
Detailed and academic biographies can quickly get bogged down in minutiae, but the author really brings every aspect to life. He explains each stage of the process so the reader can easily grasp the difficulties of being a photographer as each decade and development moves along – whether it be hand sensitising plates, processing ‘in the field’, or just the difficulties of running a business that is limited by the number of prints that can be run off each day – assuming you have enough sunlight to do it… on that note there is an hysterical diary extract from Wilson from 1863, for a week of prospective shooting in Loch Maree – where seemingly day after day his efforts to capture anything in camera were dashed by the god-
awful rain. Strangely enough his diary reminded me of a family trip to Rothsea in 1972…
This is a very beautifully printed book, and makes one wish that every so-so printed photography book of the last 40 years could be reprinted with such love and care.
Whether you are a stereo nut or not, this book is highly recommended – best of all you don’t need to worry about having a viewer to enjoy the many images reproduced – they’ve included a very sturdy fold down pair that nestle in the rear cover.
There’s a very nice introduction by Brian May, and also a spread at the back of other titles from The London Stereoscopic Company – from ‘crinoline’ to the super creepy ‘Diableries’, not forgetting mr May’s other life on stage with “Queen in 3D”.
The cover price for the Washington Wilson biog is less than the current going rate for the original (and substandard)edition – it’s a no brainer – and a perfect stocking filler!
(Review by Timothy Campbell)
Hardback: 206 pages, 23.9 x 1.8 x 31.2 cm
Publisher: The London Stereoscopic Company
Secure the shadow. Somerset photographers 1839 – 1939 By Robin Ansell, Allan Collier and Phil Nichols
Most readers in the club will have an interest in old photographs and the history of photography. This book, whilst concentrating on Somerset, also includes a huge amount of interesting facts about photographers and their lives and puts them into a fascinating social context.
The book is innovative in that much of the information provided is in the normal printed form and is then supplemented by a host of other data contained on a DVD attached to the inside back cover of the book. This has allowed the book to be reasonably priced and of manageable size. Possibly it may also allow easier updating in years to come.
The book is by three experienced researchers and authors and lists all of the known photographers who operated in or visited Somerset from the very earliest days of photography up until 1939. It is the culmination of years of devoted research. Many of the facts in the book have never been published before and details of sources are often provided for further research.
Of particular interest are the biographical, lifelong timelines of many of the photographers listed, their families and their occupations.
All of this data has been gathered from census records, birth, death and marriage records and the 1939 Register etc. It has also been gleaned from newspaper reports, historical advertisements, obituaries and details of wills and numerous conversations with, and visits to, photo-historians, libraries, museums, County Records Offices and leading collectors.
Of special value is that much of the information in the book is fully annotated with reference to the original sources.
The images have come from the authors’ own collections, from the Victorian Image Collection (www.cartedevisite.co.uk), the biggest collection of cartes de visite and cabinet cards in the world, from other contributors throughout Somerset and the neighbouring counties and from as far afield as Australia.
The DVD includes several thousand scans of examples of the work of Somerset photographers in the form of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, stereocards, cartes de visite, cabinet cards and postcards showing both portraiture and topography.
The book includes a large alphabetical directory of Somerset photographers. who are also indexed by location (town). There is also a list of all women photographers. Significantly, amateurs are shown in a separate appendix as well as travelling and itinerant photographers that passed through the county during the 100 year period. There is also a separate record of professional photographers who were not resident in Somerset but are known to have taken at least one Somerset image.
There is also a collection of the names of photographers living in Somerset but with no known studio there; the information coming from the census returns and from the 1939 Register. Another chapter mentions many of the Somerset photographers that contributed to the war effort between 1914 and 1918.
All in all, a hugely comprehensive work which is thoroughly researched, well structured and presented in a way that makes it easy to find what you are wanting to know.
A book of real interest, not only for photo-historians, family historians and local historians interested in Somerset, but for those with similar interests from the rest of UK as well. Excellent.
(Review by Ron Cosens, member No.1)
Softback, 30 x 21 cm, 105 pages , with accompanying DVD
containing 4,495 pages.
Published by The Somerset & Dorset Family History Society
The Vest Pocket Kodak and the First World War By Jon Cooksey.
The first Vest Pocket Kodaks were issued just over 100 years ago and club members may have seen Colin Harding talking about the camera in the BBC Four documentary Hidden Histories: WW1’s Forgotten Photographs, broadcast in 2014 as part of the BBC’s World War One Centenary programmes. As this month sees the centenary of the Armistice that ended the ‘Great War’, this review seems particularly timely.
The author – a leading military historian, broadcaster and battlefield guide – is eminently qualified to write about the First World War, but this book also shows him to be almost as capable when it comes to photographic history, and one great strength of this book is the way in which he skilfully integrates the history of the ‘VPK’ with that of the war in which it was used.
The book is divided into two sections, ‘The Camera’ (pp.16-52) and ‘The Conflict’ (pp.54-91), with the latter half providing examples of how the VPK was used in the different fields of war. The book is illustrated throughout, with diagrams and advertisements, wartime images and photographs taken both with, and of, the VPK.
The opening section on ‘The Camera’ provides an admirably clear exposition of the VPK’s production. Over two million were produced between its launch in April 1912 and discontinuation in 1926, making it one of the most popular cameras of the time. Part of its appeal, of course, was its small size – when closed, the VPK measures just 1 x 2½ x 4¾ inches, thus able to be slipped comfortably inside the pocket of a waistcoat, or what the Americans term a ‘vest.’ After the declaration of war in August 1914 the VPK was explicitly promoted as the ‘soldier’s camera’, and thousands of amateur photographers packed it into their kitbags as they set off for the battlefields of Europe.
The VPK used negatives that measured just 1⅝ x 2½ inches, the same size as those in the No. 0 Folding Pocket Kodak which had been introduced 10 years earlier. When Kodak amended their terminology in 1913, the film format used by the VPK was renamed 127.
Cooksey presents a lucid and confident explanation of these and other technical innovations, including the introduction of the ‘Autographic’ VPK in 1915, which came with a metal
stylus that could be used to write notes on the back of the negative.
There are valuable discussions of the practicality of using the camera, in addition to related topics such as VPK photographs of the 1914 ‘Christmas Truce’, the use of Kodak images in the media, and the question of Censorship, in which the author provides details of the War Office’s steps to ban photography on the battlefront and the court-martial of one Private Mullis for ‘having and using a camera.’
Although the Foreword by World War One historian Richard van Emden claims that Cooksey ‘places the camera on the Western Front in its historical context’, one attraction of the book for me was that the author manages to avoid the typical overemphasis on the British experience on the Western Front. There are images here of Sikh soldiers, ANZACS at Gallipoli and the nurses known affectionately as ‘the Madonnas of Pervyse’; nor is the coverage limited to the Allies either, with reference made to the use of VPKs by German and Austro-Hungarian soldiers.
As is noted in the Foreword, recent studies of the First World War have moved away from the official histories written by senior officers and establishment figures in order to pay more attention to the ‘forgotten voices’ of ordinary soldiers, civilians and other personnel. This has been a welcome shift, and a comparable focus on the images taken by amateur photographers is long overdue. This book is not only a valuable addition to the literature on the First World War but will be appreciated by anyone with an interest in Kodak cameras, the cultural history of photography and the role of the media in reporting on global conflict.
(Review by James Downs)
Hardback, 12 x 18 x 1 cm. 96 pages. Illustrated.
Published by Ammonite Press, 2017
Polaroid – the missing manual – the complete creative guide
By Rhiannon Adam
Most readers will probably have experienced a Polaroid camera at some time, either as an owner, as a collector or maybe just by being in a Polaroid photograph, and I’m sure that many readers will be aware that Polaroid film production ceased in the early 2000s, so you may be wondering ‘why this particular book, at this particular moment in time?’ Surely an in-depth guide to Polaroid and all its variations would have been worthwhile in the late 1970s, when sales of both film and the trail-blazing SX-70 were at their height?
To answer this, I feel that this excellent book should have been titled ‘Instant Film cameras – the complete guide’ – as it contains information on far more than just Polaroid.
Containing two main sections – Camera and film format guide, and Creative techniques – the author has identified that there will be readers wanting to find out how to get the most from their camera, and others who are interested in the history of Polaroid instant film in its various guises from peel apart to the ‘true’ instant format of the SX-70, and has very successfully laid out the pages with cross referenced sections and sub sections, along with a comprehensive contents page. The beauty of it is that you can very quickly jump to the in-depth detail on just about any model of camera, see the accessories that were made for it originally, see the accessories that are available now and critically see what films it is compatible with. If that last line sounds odd (given the unavailability of new Polaroid film), then ‘The Impossible Project’ needs to be introduced and explained.
Basically, on hearing of the soon to be discontinued film and production facilities of Polaroid, a bunch of enthusiasts took it upon themselves to re-introduce the instant film format – no simple task given that only part of the entire production process was known and that many of the chemicals involved were now more or less banned. But perseverance has paid off, and it is now entirely possible to buy many different ‘Impossible’ instant film types, and cameras that only a few years ago were almost valueless curiosities are now very much in demand as users. Not only that, there are companies that offer fully refurbished cameras – for a price!
I must mention that as well as Impossible project items, the range from Fuji (Instax) is also covered, all models and films being fully documented here.
A recurring feature within the book is ‘Polaroid Relics’ – a page or two devoted to particular ranges from the company that failed miserably – I always have soft spot for this kind of thing, the unloved mongrels of famous siblings, and if anything it’s good to see the history balanced in this way, rather than concentrating solely on the successes.
Anyone who has toyed with instant film will no doubt be familiar with the manipulations that can be made during the development stage of a print, from pushing the entire image around, to drawing streaks using a blunt implement and so on, but here the treatment is taken to an astonishing level – from stamped shapes from the print rollers, to multiple exposures, even cyanotypes from a Polaroid? Oh yes, it’s all here.
The text is very nicely written, being informative and enjoyable, the history of Polaroid features some very nice illustrations and pack shots showing how the brand developed over the years, and there are many line drawings, mock ups and exploded diagrams of the main models explaining just how technically advanced they were. For those of a more molecular bent there are even diagrams explaining the construction of the film layers – phew! There are pages detailing the (infamous) Kodak instant cameras, the dead end Russian versions and a tidy spread or two of the kiddy marketed models – surely no-one can resist a Tasmanian Devil camera, from the Warner Brothers cartoons?
What I liked particularly about this book is that it is a true snapshot of the instant film scene today – it will be interesting to re-review it in five or ten years’ time to see whether things flourish (particularly for the first camera from the Impossible Project team – the I-1 camera).
As mentioned my only fault with this book is the slightly misleading title – but don’t let that put you off – the content is highly recommended.
Hardback, 24x19cm, 240 pp. ISBN 9780500544600. Published by Thames & Hudson. Price £19.95
by John Wade
There are plenty of books on collecting ‘classic’ cameras, and more recently there has been a wave of books on collecting the more quirky/unusual/obscure ones that most ‘serious’ collectors turn their noses up at. This new title by our very own John Wade takes a novel and ‘of the moment approach’ to the subject – for Retro Cameras is not merely a collectors’ guide, it is a very informative guide to actually taking photographs with those cameras.
Being a collector doesn’t necessarily mean being a user of cameras – it seems that the majority of the PCCGB rarely, if ever, take a photograph (that’s not a criticism, merely an observation), but for me, and a for a growing number of people worldwide, there is an immense satisfaction in using the camera for its intended purpose, so this book is most definitely welcome!
The last five years or so have seen a huge increase in the amount of 35mm and 120 film being sold across the world, in no small part due to the success of LOMO. The re-introduction of the Polaroid instant film process has probably had a knock-on effect as people who had never taken a traditional photograph have discovered the pleasure of doing things manually and analogue – not unlike the popularity of vinyl LPs.
This wonderfully illustrated book goes through each of the major camera types and formats that are still available (more or less) and explains in a very clear and precise way how each of the cameras can be used, what to look out for when buying each one, and lists alternate models and choices when appropriate.
John has used a simple 5-star rating for the rarity of each camera, but has sensibly not given any price indication as that can vary hugely, depending on the model, the condition and most importantly where it was purchased!
Broken down into four major sections (Basics, The Cameras, Retro Accessories and Further Info), with plenty of very high-quality images for the subjects (from John’s personal collection, with a handful of acknowledged images supplied by fellow club members) this is both a feast for the eyes and an inspiration to go out and get shooting.
John’s previous books have shown his love for both the quirky and the classic, and here that is also evident – fancy some rangefinder fun? John recommends a Leica M3, and an Argus C3! Does an SLR sound like your cup of tea? Have a go with a Nikon F… or a Wrayflex! How about the viewfinder camera route? Choose from a Periflex 1, or an Ilford Advocate!
There’s a huge range of suggestions in here, some obvious, some obscure, all of them entirely feasible.
Retro Cameras is a beautifully printed and bound book, and will appeal to collectors and new users alike – but bear in mind that it may take several decades and very deep pockets to get a collection as impressive as the one shown within these pages!
Hardback, 2.4 x 2.8 x 20.6 cm, 288 pages. ISBN 9780500544905. Published by Thames and Hudson Ltd. Price £18.95