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  • Selfies: Egocentric or Authentic?

    Selfies: Egocentric or Authentic?

    Our previous post discussed the long history of the snapshot and how early trends in camera use reflect popular use of camera phones today. But that was a broad overview. In this post, we dive into the most controversial use of photography in our time: the selfie.

    Much like the snapshot, the selfie has a history dating back to some of the first cameras. The earliest known selfie was taken by Robert Cornelius in 1839.blog-post-7a He used a daguerreotype, which is an early form of photography that took a long time to develop. One theory is that he was able to set up the exposure and get into place, sit for the exposure time, and then rush to close the aperture. Since the exposure was so long, he was able to move quickly without ruining the photo. However, most early photographers preferred the classic mirror selfie. You can visit Mirror Portraits from the Early Days of Photography to see a gallery of such photos.

    PBS Art Assignment host and former art curator Sarah Urist Green believes that self-portraits were sometimes more of a necessity that conscious choice in the early, experimental days of photography. It was easier to practice on oneself than have other people pose for so long. But even when ignoring practicality, people loved having photos of themselves. In 1925 DH Lawrence lamented that “each of us has a complete Kodak idea of himself”. Though Lawrence probably saw the “Kodak idea” as evidence of humans’ selfish, narcissistic nature, he also pointed to another interpretation of selfies. Do selfies help us get a better grasp on our identity?

    The Guardian interviewed Rebecca Brown, a 23-year-old graduate trainee from Birmingham, who sees selfies as a form of self-exploration. “It’s almost like a visual diary,” she says. “I can look back and see what I looked like at a particular time, what I was wearing. It’s exploring your identity in digital form…People think if you take pictures of yourself, you’re self-obsessed but that’s like saying if you write a diary or an autobiography, you’re self-obsessed. Not necessarily. A selfie is a format and a platform to share who you are.”

    blog-post-7bMost arguments against selfies point to the fact that they are different from a diary because they are made for public display. However, there are layers of privacy and publicity involved. Some people take selfies as a personal record, much like a diary. Some are taken to show a new hairstyle or cool pair of shoes, shared only with friends. And some are taken to show the world and hear its response. Brown finds that need for feedback normal. “Before I go out, I’ll take a couple of pictures almost to see how I look in other people’s eyes. In the same way that if you wrote a really good piece of work and had people commenting about how good it was,…if people start liking your selfie, then obviously you’re going to get a natural buzz. It gives you a nice boost and you can walk with that little bit more confidence.”

    Urist Green also sees significance in a selfie. She finds that “the basic motivations and potential for expression have stayed the same. I am not saying all selfies are art. Dear god no. But I am saying that there’s not really a difference in nature between a photographic self-portrait made by an artist and your run of the mill selfie.” There is no shame in wanting to see yourself and to see how the world views you. So “go forth and selfie. Just try to do it well.”


    Further reading:

    A Brief History of the Selfie, Huffington Post, 10/15/2013 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/15/selfie-history-infographic_n_4101645.html

    Mirror Portraits from the Early Days of Photography, Michael Archambault, 6/2/2015 http://petapixel.com/2015/06/02/mirror-self-portraits-from-the-early-days-of-photography/

    Why Snapchat is Valuable: It’s All About Attention https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140321152822-79695780-why-snapchat-is-valuable-it-s-all-about-attention




    Before the Selfie: A Brief History of Looking at Ourselves, KQED Arts, Carly Severn, 6/9/2016, https://ww2.kqed.org/pop/2016/06/09/before-the-selfie-a-brief-history-of-looking-at-ourselves/

    The Invention of the “Snapshot” Changed the Way We Viewed the World, Smithsonian.com

    PBS offers a surprisingly artsy history of the infamous selfie, Joe Blevins, 6/3/2016 http://www.avclub.com/article/pbs-offers-surprisingly-artsy-history-infamous-sel-237702



  • Snapshots to Snapchat: Why amateur photography matters, part two

    Snapshots to Snapchat: Why amateur photography matters, part two

    Not everyone was pleased by the rise of the snapshot. Professional photographers disparaged the haphazard, often out-of-focus shots from amateurs. Alfred Stieglitz, an art photographer, predicted that “Photography as a fad is well nigh on its last legs.” Still others complained about “Kodak fiends,” people who always had their device on hand, constantly taking pictures. Sound familiar?


    Most people used their cameras to have fun, whether it was preserving family memories, chronicling vacations, or making jokes. There were trends (like modern mannequin or plank photos) that included breaking the news, where people broke their their heads through holes in newspapers. Some amateur camera users considered themselves to be more serious photographers than these Kodak fiends and their crazy snapshots. In the early 1900s, they formed several organizations to promote photography as art rather than a hobby. The most prominent was the Photo-Secession, founded by the previously mentioned Alfred Stieglitz in 1902. To these serious photographers, snapshots lacked aesthetic and technical expertise. Within a few decades, however, some artists returned to snapshots, considering them as a form of American folk art. As time passed and cameras became embedded in American lifestyles, artists became more comfortable with the continuum between everyday snapshots and high art photography.

    It is easy to see the parallels with today’s camera fiends. We see young people and other early adopters using the latest photo apps, from Instagram to Snapchat. Again, we see people mock these amateurs, with their poorly lit pictures of food or of goofy faces. But everyone taking photos with their phones is continuing a tradition started with Kodak fiends, a tradition of documenting the everyday lives of ordinary people.



    The Invention of the “Snapshot” Changed the Way We Viewed the World, Smithsonian.com

    Kodak and the rise of amateur photography, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/kodk/hd_kodk.htm

  • Snapshots to Snapchat: Why amateur photography matters, part one

    Snapshots to Snapchat: Why amateur photography matters, part one

    People have long kept diaries, family records, and legal documents to keep track of their lives and commemorate people, events, and important information. As new technologies become available, people change the way they keep those records and memories. We moved from handwritten records to printed books to digital files. Photography is another way that people record and remember. Photographs can capture a particular moment in time as it happens, with relatively little change between what a person sees with their own eyes even if the person behind the camera is not a skilled photographer.

    Amateur photography explores home and private lives and captures its subjects in the moment. Pictures taken by amateur photographers create one-of-a-kind records that preserve memories and give a glimpse of the everyday lives of regular people. The National Gallery of Art notes that “Any American who takes a snapshot contributes to a compelling and influential genre…[that has] also affected the ways in which we represent ourselves and mark life events, preserving and even creating memories.” How did the photograph become such an important part of our lives?

    The first snapshot camera was introduced by George Eastman in 1888 – the Kodak. It was a small hand-held box that cost $25 (about $600 today) and was very easy to use. The Kodak camera came with 100 shots preinstalled. When all the negatives were used, the photographer would send the whole camera back to the Eastman factory, which would send back the developed photographs along with the reloaded camera. It is easy to see where Kodak got its first slogan: You press the button, we do the rest.


    However, the cost meant that many people could not afford to have their own camera. So, in 1900, Eastman released the Brownie, which cost only $1 (about $30 today). The new price made all the difference and one third of American households had a camera by 1905. Cameras continued to become more popular and easier to use. The Polaroid was invented in 1948, creating developed black and white photos in 60 seconds. Instant color film was available by the 1960s. Digital cameras were already in development by the 1970s and camera phones were on the market by 2001.

    Today, almost every American has access to a camera, often right in our own pockets. Most people treasure the ability to capture and preserve memories. Some people even see snapshots as a form of American folk art. But what about the people who fail to appreciate the ease and ubiquity of snapshot photography?


    The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978, National Gallery of Art, http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2007/snapshot/

    The Invention of the “Snapshot” Changed the Way We Viewed the World, Smithsonian Magazine, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/invention-snapshot-changed-way-we-viewed-world-180952435/

  • “You Press the Button – We do the Rest”


    You Press the Button – We do the Rest

    Erica Selly, UMM studentblog-post-4a

    In 1888, what began with George Eastman’s commercial production of dry plates in a rented loft in Rochester, New York, expanded into the birth of modern snap-shot photography, that all amateur photographers are versed in today. In 1888 the Kodak brand was officially titled and their first camera was placed on the market. From then on, Kodak was one of the leading companies both in production and innovation of camera technologies.  In 1889 they made transparent film available for public cameras. In 1891 they introduced the first “daylight loading camera,” eliminating the need to change film in a dark room. And in 1900, the first of the beloved Brownie series camera was introduced. These cameras could be purchased for one dollar, with rolls of film going for fifteen cents, which put the ability to snap photos into nearly everyone’s financial capability.


    The Brownie Camera series was such a hit with the public that many styles were produced, each with their own distinct feature and update in photo-technology. One such product was the No.2A Brownie camera. It was introduced in April of 1907 and its production was discontinued in 1936. Throughout the years of its production it underwent some changes; these included fitting the eyelets to the lens, changing the location of tension springs, adding a metal nameplate to the back of the camera, and even available colors (red, grey, brown, green, blue and black were available in America, while the United Kingdom offered brown, blue, claret, green, as well as black). One of their top sellers was the Brownie Target Six-20, which was a metal box type with two view finders. Perhaps one of its most popular features was that its 620 film size was easily respooled. One of their cameras, which had a lower production period (1930-1933), was the No.2A Beau Brownie. It incorporated a doublet lens rotary shutter and a specially made cable release. Even after creating these fairly small and convenient models, Kodak continued to pursue advancement their photographic technology; this included foldable cameras, the addition of color, instant cameras, and the ability for non-professionals to produce their own motion pictures – even in color. In 1975 Kodak was able to produce the first digital camera, though it was the size of a toaster, and then “decision-free” “disc photography” in 1982.blog-post-4c

  • Kodak’s Creator: George Eastman (1854-1932)

    blog-post-3George Eastman was born in 1854 in Waterville, New York, the same year that his father, George Washington Eastman, established Eastman’s Commercial College in Rochester. In 1860, the family moved to Rochester, but two years later, George W. Eastman died suddenly. George Eastman left school at age 14 to support his mother, Maria Kilbourn Eastman, and two older sisters, Ellen and Kate. He worked at a local insurance company and then as a junior clerk for the Rochester Savings Bank.

    When Eastman was 23, a coworker suggested that he buy a camera for an upcoming trip. Though he never took that trip, he became intrigued by photographic processes and equipment. Eastman sought to simplify and improve what he saw as clunky, expensive equipment. He spent three years in the kitchen experimenting with gelatin emulsions and had invented and patented a dry-plate coating machine by 1880.

    In 1881, with the financial backing of Rochester businessman Henry Strong, Eastman formed the Eastman Dry Plate Company, which was later reincorporated as the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company in 1884 and as Eastman Kodak Company in 1892. Eastman built his business on four basic principles: a focus on the customer, mass production at low cost, worldwide distribution, and extensive advertising. He eventually realized “that what we were doing was not merely making dry plates, but that we were starting out to make photography an everyday affair…to make the camera as convenient as the pencil.”

    The company created easy-to-use cameras that made photography widely accessible, established the practice of professional photofinishing, and developed a flexible film that was a critical contribution to the launch of the motion picture industry. Eastman had revolutionized how America thought about and used cameras. In the late 1920s, he was diagnosed with a progressive and irreversible spinal disease. He ended his life on March 14, 1932. In a note to friends, he wrote, “My work is done. Why wait?”


    To learn more about George Eastman, visit:

    Eastman Museum, https://eastman.org/about-george-eastman, Eastman Museum

    Kodak website, http://www.kodak.com/corp/aboutus/heritage/georgeeastman/default.htm

  • Camera Obscura: Discovering the first camera

    In the beginning there was light…and darkness…and some spectacular pictures. In the 4th century B.C., Aristotle described a phenomenon where light entered a dark space through a small hole, somehow resulting in an upside down image of what was on the other side. During the Renaissance, artists like Leonardo da Vinci used the trick of light to create sketches. The 19th century saw tourists at Coney Island viewing the images as entertainment, while at the same time in Edinburgh, tourists were using the trick to spy on each other. This entertaining process is called camera obscura, which just means “darkened room.”blog-post-2

    How does a camera obscura work? First, you need a dark room or box with a small hole on one end. Light from the other side enters the hole at an angle. Some rays of light are reflected from the tops of objects, like houses or trees, and shine downward. Rays being reflected from lower down, like cars or flowers, shine up. As all the light travels through the hole, the rays cross in the dark space and form an inverted (left to right and upside down) image. This is also how pinhole cameras and even eyes work. When we view things with our eyes, our brains correct the inverted image and make it appear right-side-up. Modern cameras use mirrors to fix the problem.


    Want to make your own camera obscura? Visit the websites below:

    Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura: http://camera-obscura.co.uk/camera_obscura/camera_make.asp

    How to Make a Pinhole Camera: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Make-A-Pinhole-Camera/?ALLSTEPS

  • Welcome to Kodak: Capturing Moment in Time, an exhibit you can explore in person and online.

    We will be posting updates online every few weeks to better understand the changes in camera technology that are visible in our new exhibit Kodak: Capturing Moments in Time. You can visit the Stevens County Historical Society to see Kodak cameras ranging from approximately 1907-1984. Changes in camera form and function show a clear evolution from the first boxy cameras all the way to instant cameras, including changes in technology and design fads. We see art deco designs in 1930s, smooth Bakelite cases in the 1940s and 50s, and blocky shapes with gold accents in the 1980s. There are cameras that use single shot film, film rolls that we still see today, and even Kodak’s failed disc film. All cameras on display use film – no digital cameras are featured. And while we do have Kodak video cameras, they will not be on exhibit.

    blog-post-1As for the focus on one brand – just like today, Kodak was a popular and readily available brand. They were among the first to make personal and easy-to-use cameras. We have Kodak cameras from a variety of donors, but the majority of our cameras, both in the exhibit and in the collection in general, come from one person. According to our records, “Ed Dablow worked for Monroe Photos from 1950-1958.  He took a 2 year leave during the Korean War when he volunteered for the Army. This collection is a mix of his personal photograph equipment and cameras that were given to him.” Dablow’s donation consists of 65 objects, from cameras to photo processing equipment, 38 of which are Kodak. Even some utilitarian objects such as a photo cutter (similar to a standard paper cutter) are Kodak brand. And by staying within one company, it is easier to see what modifications are due to changes in technology and form over time rather than just differences between companies.


    Come see these changes for yourself! Kodak: Capturing Moments in Time will be on display until April 2017. And check back for the latest blog posts as we explore camera history and technology.