Thursday, July 30, 2015

19th Century Wallets

Four Lens Disdéri Camera
Four Lens Disdéri Camera
In the professional portrait industry, an 8 up wallet unit is a 7x10 inch sheet of photographic paper containing 8 identical portraits. These are intended to be cut apart and shared with friends and family members. During the later half of the 20th century, wallet prints became one of the most popular items in school portrait and family portrait packages. All eight wallet prints were exposed from a single negative simultaneously using an array of eight lenses between the negative and the photo sensitive paper.

Clara Silvois, Andre Disdéri. 1862. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Clara Silvois, Andre Disdéri. 1862. Metropolitan Museum of Art
While multi-lens printers were a late 20th century creation, multi-lens cameras date to the earliest days of photography. In 1854, André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri patented a system for creating
cartes de visite , which translates into English as visiting cards. These were 2.5x3.5 cards, the same size as modern wallets, which were intended to be shared with family and friends. Within a few years the calling cards became extremely popular and turned Disdéri into the most famous photographer in Paris for a time. 

The Back of the Disdéri Camera
The Back of the Disdéri Camera
The Disdéri patent called for mounting eight Petzval portrait lenses in an array on the front of the camera, but his actual implementation used four lenses.  There was a separate slide on the back of the camera for each lens which allowed the photographer to capture four images in a single exposure or make four separate exposures for each card. To create eight cards, the photographer would expose the first four, then slide the film into position to expose the remaining four.

The cartes de visit photos remained popular until the early 20th century when George Eastman introduced the Brownie camera and everyone started taking their own photos.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

The First Portrait Lens

Petzval Lens
Petzval Lens
In the earliest days of photography, sitting for a portrait was a long and uncomfortable process. The low sensitivity of the glass plates combined with the small aperture lenses to require an exposure time of 15 to 30 minutes.  Any movement during the exposure resulted in a blurred image. It is little wonder that everyone looked unhappy in those early portraits.

The situation was improved dramatically by the development of the Petsval lens by Joseph Petzval in 1840. With an aperture of f/3.7, the exposure times were able to drop to 15 to 30 seconds.  The 160 mm focal length made it a perfect portrait lens for the large glass negatives sizes of the period.

The Petzval lens consisted of two doublet lenses with an aperture stop mounted in the middle. The front lens is designed to correct for spherical abberration, but it introduces coma.  The second doublet corrects the coma and the aperture stop corrects most of the astigmatism. The lens suffers from field curvature and vignetting which limits its field of view to about 30 degrees.

The Petzval lens was one of many photographic innovations that would simplify photography and eventually lead the the smartphone cameras we use every now.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

State of the Arts in State College

Meteoric - Photography by Jana Scott
Photography by Jana Scott
Last weekend I visited State College, Pennsylvania for the Central PA Festival of the Arts. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences I remember.

For me, the environment and atmosphere of a festival are almost as important as the art itself. It is much easier to catch the nuances of the work and talk with the artists when everyone is excited, comfortable and in a good mood.  

The cool mountain breezes and the shade of the magnificent American elms of the University campus and  downtown streets make State College the perfect setting for a festival. Although it is a large show with 300 jury-selected artists and an expected attendance over 125,000, the booths were spaced along one edge of the streets and mall which allowed plenty of room for everyone without feeling crowded. 

This was my first show outside the Midwest which exposed me to a wide body of work that I hadn't seen before as well as some favorites that I have seen at several shows.  I only have room to mention a few favorites.

The Final View by Walter Arnold
The Final View by Walter Arnold
Walter Arnold is one of my favorite photographic artists and the person who recommended that I come to State College for the festival. While I have written about Arnold and his unique Art of Abandonment before, this is the first time I have seen his work at a festival. It was fun to stand across from his booth and listen to the comments and expressions of awe as people first saw The Final View.

Jana Scott's photography captures the beauty and bold color of rusting metals. She accomplishes this through close ups that show us the detail we would normally overlook. The tight cropping on the organic shapes of the rust patterns create a hauntingly beautiful abstraction.

Ceramic shelf and horse by Paula Brown-Steedly
Ceramic shelf and horse by Paula Brown-Steedly
Paula Brown-Steedly of Virginia Clay Studio also focuses on organic shapes in her ceramic sculpture and shelves.  She explained to me that nature is not symmetrical so she doesn't make her art that way. Her pieces "reveal the force of wind, the rhythm of falling rain, the warmth of the sun, and the fluidity of time, as I see them in nature."

The natural shapes of the earth were also an inspiration to Ursula Perry and her husband Bud Scheffel of Earth Saver Wind Sculpture. Their amazing kinetic sculptures are held together through shape and gravity without welds or solder joints to mar the form. The perfectly balanced pieces ranged in size to grace a table, a room or a garden.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

It has Always been a Small World

George Eastman and Thomas Edison
George Eastman and Thomas Edison
The Internet is often credited with bringing people with common interests together and making the world a small place. But in many ways, the world has always been a small place.

I remember my first visit to the George Eastman house in Rochester, New York and how impressed I was that George Eastman met frequently with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. These must have been sessions of extreme creative collaboration.

Any deep exploration of history reveals a number of times and places where inventive people clustered together and came into frequent contact with each other. Think of Athens and ancient philosophy, Vienna and classical music, London and the Royal Society, New York and the development of railroads, and Silicon Valley and the Internet age.

In every age, there are places that draw the best and the brightest and inspire them once they arrive.

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

When You Don't Feel Like It

Sleeping Dog
There are days when I don't feel like working.

As jobs go, mine is pretty nice. I work with talented and pleasant colleagues and serve talented, interesting and nice customers. The work is diverse and interesting. Even so, there are days when I don't feel like working.

There are days when the link between activity and results seems so remote that work seems senseless. There are days when some other issue is creating so much mental distraction that work feels unimportant. There are days when staring out the window, reading a good book, or going for a walk seems far more appealing than talking on the phone or typing an email.

Like many in the modern economy, these feelings are particularly dangerous because I work frequently from home and my work is mostly self directed. I could probably get away with not working very hard for quite some time. But, I do the work anyway.

The most reliable key to success in any endeavor is consistency.  You can't learn to play the clarinet or hit a golf ball straight without frequent practice. You can't grow your sales base without constantly reaching out to contact new people. You can't satisfy your existing customers without consistently following through to provide the products they want and resolving their concerns. You can't build a strong investment portfolio if you sell every time an analyst lowers a rating.

It takes discipline to stick to a plan even when you don't feel like it, but over time it becomes a habit that gets easier. If you force yourself to get started, you soon get into the flow and get some things done. And eventually, the efforts begin to produce results.

Sometimes plans really don't work and need to be revised. But those types of changes need to be the result of patient evaluation of results over a reasonable period of time.  Not based upon the feeling of the day.

What do you feel like doing today?

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