Tuesday, October 29, 2013

NYC Photo Expo 2013

Last week, I attended the 2013 edition of the NYC Photo Expo.  As a film photographer, I find less reason to visit every year.  Pretty much all that remain of the old exhibitors are the lighting people and those promoting accessories such as backdrops and camera bags. Symbolizing the change is the absence of Kodak which was once the most commanding presence at the show.

It's not only the change from film to digital, though, that's stolen the show's thunder.  It's also that there are no real surprises for any visitor who's already done his homework.  Long before products are released, websites such as Nikon Rumors have already released full details and provided photos along with the manufacturer's specs.  The manufacturers themselves provide on their own sites all the information available on any given product once it's on the market. The only reason to go to the show now is the chance to actually hold a new product in one's hands before buying it.  (I found myself standing next to one concert photographer at the Nikon counter whose principal reason for attending was to hear exactly how quiet the D610 was in silent mode before deciding whether or not to purchase a blimp.)  Since I live relatively close to B&H on Ninth Avenue, this has never really been an issue for me though the manufacturer reps are undeniably better qualified to answer questions than are the store's salesmen.  Still, one can always make a toll-free call if there's a technical question.

In the future, I'll probably only attend Photo Expo if I am considering a major purchase such as a new camera body.  That's unlikely, though, since if anything I'm concentrating more than ever on analog photography.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ilford Announces Film Processing Lab

An article on PetaPixel in August relayed the news that Ilford was setting up its own photo lab in California to process black & white films for the general public.  According to Ilford's press release, the service is not limited to Ilford's own films; it states that the "service can process any make of black and white film."  The release notes that prints will be made on Ilford's own black & white paper.  Other services offered will include "three levels of quality for scanning black and white negatives."  The press release quotes Director of Marketing and North American Sales, Steven Brierley as saying:
"It has become more and more difficult for black and white film users to have their films processed and printed to a high quality on real black and white paper. Our Lab based at the HARMAN factory in England has provided a continuous quality service to UK photographers for many years, and we are seeing an increased number of enquiries from overseas, including North America. We are excited to announce that built on that success we can now offer the same service from a base in California.”
This is important news for photographers, both amateur and professional, who prefer to continue shooting black & white on film rather than rely on digital conversions.  While most experienced photographers prefer to do their own processing and printing, those who do not have access to darkroom facilities have seen their options dwindle in recent years as a huge number of traditional photo labs have either closed or else have begun offering only digital services to their clients.  The establishment of Ilford's California photo lab underscores the company's commitment to traditional photography as a viable medium in its own right.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Early Color Photography

This article was originally published on December 13, 2012

This is the last in a series of posts dealing with early color photographic processes. I have previously blogged about both pre-1935 Kodachrome film and the autochrome process.

I recently came across a site named kottke.org that claims to be "one of the longest continuously running blogs on the web, having been in operation for 14.7527 years." One section of the blog has apparently been dedicated to early color photography. Unfortunately, though there are many links to sites containing such photography, there is little organization and an absence of technical information. Still, the photos themselves are reward enough for browsing.

One of the portfolios shown is dedicated to the photography project directed by the banker Albert Kahn in the early twentieth century that eventually amassed a collection of over 72,000 color photos. Of particular interest are photos taken in Paris in 1914 just before the outbreak of World War I. Aside from the historical importance of these photos, they have a unique aesthetic value. The use of color brings the city much closer in time to viewers than the familiar black & white photos that seem to belong to another age. It is interesting that Kahn's photographers were shooting Parisian street scenes at the same time Eugene Atget was busy recording in black & white his own photos of similar scenes.

I'm sorry to say that I cannot remember ever having heard of Albert Kahn and his project prior to discovering these sites. A disciple of Henri Bergson, Kahn was eventually ruined by the great stock market crash of 1929 and died in France in 1940 during the Nazi occupation. 

BBC books, in association with the Musée Albert-Kahn, has published a volume entitled The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn to accompany a television special dedicated to his project. The BBC site also contains a further selection of the project's photos taken from the book. But this site too fails to provide any technical data, instead simply lumping the photos together under the title Autochromes. As a Wikipedia article notes: 
"The Autochrome Lumière is an early color photography process. Patented in 1903 by the Lumière brothers in France and first marketed in 1907, it was the principal color photography process in use before the advent of subtractive color film in the mid-1930s."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Early Color Processes: Autochrome

This article was originally published on February 13, 2013

I previously posted an article about Kodachrome motion picture film and today want to discuss another early color process, the Autochrome. Helpfully, The Huffington Post earlier this month published a slide show of photos taken in Paris early in the twentieth century using this process. 

First patented in 1903 by the Lumière brothers, who had already in 1892 invented motion pictures, the autochrome was pretty much the only color option available to photographers prior to the development of subtractive color films such as Kodachrome. Unlike Kodachrome, though, the autochrome was an "additive process." In this case, that consisted of a glass plate coated with grains of potato starch which had been dyed red-orange, green and blue-violet and which then acted as color filters.

Although the autochrome process was expensive and must have presented great difficulties to photographers, since its slow speed required long exposures on a tripod, a great many masterpieces were created through its use. Edward Steichen, in particular, had great success with the process. A number of his autochromes are in the collection of the George Eastman House in Rochester.

In addition, the Wikipedia article linked, as an example, to an autochrome by Arnold Genthe that would be considered a gorgeous fine art nude in any medium. 

There is an excellent illustrated history of the autochrome process written by John Wood entitled The Art of the Autochrome. For some reason, this work was omitted from the list of references in the Wikipedia article.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Early Color Processes: Pre-1935 Kodachrome

This article was originally published on February 12, 2013

An article and video originally published in 2010 on the Kodak blog, A Thousand Words, gives a glimpse into the use of early color photography in the form of a screen test made in 1922. This was actually more than a decade before the release of the first color film feature, Becky Sharp. According to the blog post, written by Thomas Hoehn, the test was made on "Kodachrome color motion picture film." 

It's important to note that the "Kodachrome color motion picture film" referenced above has nothing to do with the more famously known Kodachrome, that which was a favorite of photographers and only discontinued in 2009, other than that they were both produced by Eastman Kodak and shared the same name. 

The more famous version of Kodachrome was invented by Leopold Godowsky, Jr. and Leopold Mannes and was not formally introduced by Eastman Kodak until 1935.

There was, in fact, an earlier Kodachrome that had been invented in 1915 by John Capstaff, a former portrait photographer and physics and engineering student who joined Kodak in 1913 with other members of the firm Wratten and Wainright. His original version was based on a subtractive process wherein two negatives were exposed through color filters, red and green respectively, and then combined on a glass plate. Wikipedia notes that: 
"Today, this first version of Kodachrome is mostly forgotten, completely overshadowed by the next Kodak product bearing the name Kodachrome."
As the Thousand Words blog post notes in quoting one "Mike C.":
"The Two-Color Kodachrome Process was an attempt to bring natural lifelike colors to the screen through the photochemical method in a subtractive color system. First tests on the Two-Color Kodachrome Process were begun in late 1914. Shot with a dual-lens camera, the process recorded filtered images on black/white negative stock, then made black/white separation positives. The final prints were actually produced by bleaching and tanning a double-coated duplicate negative (made from the positive separations), then dyeing the emulsion green/blue on one side and red on the other. Combined they created a rather ethereal palette of hues."
One wonders what other examples of the 1915 Kodachrome are still extant. Why was it adapted into a motion picture film if no color motion pictures were actually in production at that time? What do examples of 1915 Kodachrome still photos look like?