Ground Glass, Toy Camera's and Nostagia

William Henry Fox Talbot 'The Villa Melzi, 5th October 1833' Camera Lucida drawing: pencil on paper 1833

"The most transitory of things, a shadow, the proverbial emblem of all that is fleeting and momentary, may be fettered by spells of our 'natural magic', and may be fixed for ever in the position which it seemed only destined for a single instant to occupy."

This is a drawing by William Henry Fox Talbot from 1833. Six years later he would announce his negative/positive process which became the main photographic process of the twentieth century. The image was drawn using a Camera Lucida - used as an aid for artists. The artist would see the real world and would then try to trace the scene (Pablo Garcia is an artist who still uses the technique).

Even with this technology Fox Talbot could not draw;

"And this lead me to reflect on the inimitable beauty of the pictures of nature's painting which the glass lens of the Camera throws upon the paper in its focus - fairy pictures, creations of a moment and destined rapidly to fade away.
It was during these thoughts that the idea occurred to me... how charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably and remain fixed upon the paper."

William Henry Fox Talbot

Oscar Gustav Rejlander 'The First Negative' 1857
Fox Talbot's need to capture the images he saw or to 'fix a shadow' is an ancient need. This photograph illustrates the legend related by Pliny the Elder (23AD- 79AD) of the Corinthian maiden who traced the shadow of her departing lover cast on a wall by lamplight. Her father, Butade, a potter, later filled in the outline of the shadow with clay to create a bas relief memorial of the departed warrior. All the girl wanted was a snap shot. Although included, by Pliny, in the history of sculpture, eighteenth and nineteenth century artists adapted this tale as a metaphor for the invention of painting. As Susan Sontag said 'All images are tinged with death' - and you could add that all images have an element of nostalgia.

Fox Talbot 'An oak tree in winter' 1842-43

'Strange mirror images from the ghost world of paper negatives'

William Henry Fox Talbot

It was Fox Talbot's inability to draw, and capture the beautiful images he saw in the lens and on the ground glass, that lead him to invent a type of light sensitive paper. 

The photographers love of the image projected on the view finder has been noted by critics (Susan Sontag) and photographers.

“The camera… makes real what one is experiencing…. A way of certifying experience… converting experience into an image, a souvenir.” 
—Susan Sontag

Maybe it is the act of seeing the world through the view finder that is one of the main appeals of photography.

An image of a modern phone/camera
A Chemist Shop Kodak Display for 620 Kodak Brownie 1950's

Camera's seem to have gone full circle. During the twentieth century SLR cameras encouraged the photographer to put their eye right up to the view finder - and this influenced the way you photographed the world. Other camera's (like the TLR or Kodak Brownies) had a small viewfinder that you looked at from a distance - not too dissimilar from the way you would use a modern camera or camera phone.

We live in an age where most people carry a camera at all times (often on their phones). Many of these cameras are capable of taking great photographs with realistic colours, exposure and depth of field.

However, in the early twenty first century people are turning back to analogue photography and a variety of alternative camera processors.

This image above is a photograph of the viewfinder on a Twin Lens Reflex camera. It has not been particularly altered on Photoshop (apart from the cross processed colours) - it is actually just a photograph. It is, however, a mirrored version of the actual world (similar to Fox Talbot's 'Strange mirror images from the ghost world'). Like a camera obscurer it projects the world upside down and back to front. The image is seen through a TLR camera and the photographs of them have the same 'inimitable beauty' and the feeling of being 'fairy pictures' described over 170 years ago by Fox Talbot.
Examples of Twin Lens Reflex Cameras
The technique is known as TTV (Through The Viewfinder - there is a tutorial here and here).
TTV images can be pieced together to create a joiner (see more here).

TTV is the meeting of old analogue technology and 21st century digital technology. Often the subject is also nostalgic like these images of old signs and fair ground rides. The grainy, decades old glass is full of dirt, scratches and smears that adds to the atmosphere and feel of the images. These edges are reminiscent of 'Burnt Edges' used in traditional dark room photography. By making the negative holder wider light would escape and 'burn' the paper - creating a black boarder around the photograph. The burnt edge technique was famously used by Henri Cartier Bresson.
Henri Cartier Bresson 'Valencia, Spain' 1933
Cartier Bresson used the burnt edge boarder to show he had not cropped his image. He had Framed his composition (often using the rule of thirds) at the moment he took the photograph - capturing the decisive moment.
Images from 'On Big Flowery Hill' John Hay
Sarah Moon 'Seagull' 1998
Fashion Photography is often slick, hyper-real and glossy. Sarah Moon's images on the other-hand are dreamlike, textured and beautiful - taking full advantage of alternative processes.
Discarded furniture and textbooks litter an abandoned classroom in the old Crispus Attucks School on Chicago’s South Side. The school was closed in 2008 and reopened in a new location nearby as the Crispus Attucks Academy. Chicago has closed 80 schools in the past decade—actions that school officials say are intended to address underperformance or dramatic drops in enrollment. —Jon Lowenstein/NOOR for Education Week
Jon-Lowenstein-South-Side-Chicago H
Jon Lowenstein
These images are by the photographer Jon Lowenstein who creates black and white Photo essays often based around his adopted city of Chicago. His worked often has a retro/burnt edge feel about it. You can see examples of his photo essays here and here.
Richard Heeps
Richard Heeps
Richard Heeps is another photographer who uses burnt edges in his work. Richard Heeps subject matter is also nostalgic - they are contemporary but seem to come from another time.

Nik Strangelove combines an eye for colour, exaggerated burnt edges and a bold use of negative space to create his photographs. Most of the frame is taken up with colour and pattern with the last section (or third) taken up with a different element.

Peel apart Polaroids create textured edges and imperfections that give them a unique look.

'Polaroid? Fun but disappointing'
Roland Barthes 'Camera Lucida' 1980

Ed Fella - 'Letters on America'
In his book 'Letters on America' Ed Fella explores the folk typography found on his travels. This simple task results in a rich body of work and a great resource for typography designers.

JFK Turner Polaroids here and here
Polaroids are imperfect, unstable and (almost) obsolete. They are technically limited, need the right weather conditions - so photo opportunity's are limited and very expensive. Unlike most photographs (a medium famed for its ability to be reproduced) a Polaroid is a one off - a photograph that is unique. It is the complete opposite of the digital image - an image that is mainly viewed on screen, rarely printed and duplicated with a tap of a button. Polaroid cameras, along with many other analogue cameras, have found a new audience. Visit the Polanoid website to see new work being produced.
Walker Evans 'Mail Box, Alabama' 1973 (from metmusuem archive)
Walker Evans was a hugely influential 20th century photographer. He came to prominence during the 1930's while working for the FSA (Farm Security Administration) in America. His black and white images often focused on aspect of life other photographers might ignore - the interior of a barbershop, an old sign, cutlery jammed in lock etc. His images had an objective look - showing the everyday as it was, but ultimately, showing it to be other than itself. He famously said:

'Colour Photography is Vulgar'
Walker Evans

He was aware that colour is very seductive and the viewer could be blinded by colour. On the other hand Black and White photography turned the world into bold flat graphic forms. He had spent his life transforming the world onto Black and White until, when given a Polaroid SX70 and film by Polaroid, spent his final years using seeing in (Polaroids warped) colour. His subject matter of sidewalks, signs and street furniture suddenly exploded with colour. We live in an age when people take colour photographs purely because technology allows it - not because we see and appreciate colour.
Still from the film 'Mirror' 1975 by Tarkovsky
Still from the film 'Stalker' 1980 by Tarkovsky
The soviet film maker Andrei Tarskovsky always carried a Polaroid camera with him. The yellow and blue hue give the images a whimsical feel and are also reminiscent of the director visual style - particularly the dream sequences from 'Nostalgia'.
Stills from the film 'Krustallos' by Fernando Nogari
The unusual colours and the dream like quality of Tarskovsky's work can now be scene in contemporary music videos and adverts. Fernando Nogari's film 'Krustallos' uses this dreamlike nostalgic feel perfectly.
Bruno Bourel

The Lomo C-A camera started the Lomography cult due to it unusual results. Radiant saturated colours, vignetting at the edges and light leaks are its key characteristics. Often the film is cross processed - meaning that colour slide film was processed in chemicals meant for colour negative film. This alters the colours further (you could cheat and use a Photoshop tutorial to create this effect here) but that goes against the point of using analogue cameras and film (then again see Lomography rule 10 - Ignore the rules). The other aspect that makes these images work are the three element Richard Heeps uses - light, film and subject matter.
A list of some of the cameras in the Lomo family

In 1991 two camera enthusiasts found and old Lomo LC-A camera. Intrigued by this old soviet camera they put a film in it to see the results. They were charmed 'by the unique, colourful and sometimes blurry' photographs that the camera produced. Their fascination with the camera grew until they became the sole distributor of the Lomo LC-A outside the soviet union. Since then they continued to find old, odd analogue cameras and sell them on.

The 10 Golden Rules of Lomography
The 10 golden rules are good advice for any photographer - taking your camera everywhere, not thinking just shooting (leaving room for happy accidents) and, the best rule, ignore the rules (read these equally good, but different, photographic rules here).

Images from a Holga
Photograph taken with the Sprocket Rocket
Panoramic image taken with the Lomo Spinner 360
The panoramic image taken by the Lomo Spinner distorts and bends the space in the image. It is reminiscent of the distortion in perspective used in German Expressionism. A panoramic image is also a type of joiner and can be created be connecting individual images together. 
Panoramic Multiple Exposure 'Calhoun Square' by Magdalen Solinitzky
This can be done on a Holga - or any old medium format camera (see Matt Adamson's image below and tutorial here) or with digital images using Photoshop (see here).

From their simple find in an junk shop they have built an international business. In this digital age where modern cameras work as invisible technology the interest in analogue technology stays. Having a physical object in your hand, as opposed to a digital images must be part of this appeal.
Mark Adamson - 35mm film through a Kodak Dualflex
The passion for analogue cameras has made Lomography a huge commercial success. However, it started with two people rummaging in a junk shop and experimenting with film. You do not have to spend a fortune buying just Lomo cameras - you can pick up old cameras for small change at car boot and jumble sales (see a Lomo article here). The image above was taken by putting a 35mm film through a Kodak Dualflex which was design for much larger film (see a tutorial here). The image goes over the whole film so the sprocket holes become part of the image.
In this image two rolls of film have been passed through an old, cheap Kodak Box Brownie. 
Kodak Advert appeared in the first issue of 'The Photographic Herald and Amateur Sportsman'1889
We live in an age when everybody has a camera on them - we are all photographers now. This was not always the case until George Eastman's Kodak company release the Box Brownie with the famous slogan 'You push the button - we do the rest'.

My Double Exposures experiments using a Box Brownie No2 with 35mm film. (How to Video Here)

These playful ideas could developed further - stick filters in front of the lens (polarizing filter for colour - red filters for black and white) or try old analogue lens on digital cameras. There is a whole community dedicated to these ideas - For digital Faux Photo Effects look here.
Image taken using Hipstamatic
We live in an age where information and technology dominate our lives and moves at a frantic pace. A modern phone can surf the Internet, send emails, be a musical instrument, a translator, a video camera and editor - and a camera. we live in an age of invisible technology - a camera will choose the aperture, exposure and even focus. You can then use a program like Photoshop to create stunning effects and then send it away to printed (if we do indeed print the image). Where are we in this process, the ghost in the machine. 

Hipstamatic montage (with link to Photoshop Tutorial)

It is telling of our time that we don't leave the images be but use apps like Hipstamatic, Shakeit and Instagram that make our snapshots look like Polaroids, Lomography and give them burnt edges and light leaks. Put simply - images from another time.
Instagram Image
These altered images do have that romantic dreamlike feel - you are drawn in by the colour, the subject matter and the nostalgia. However, Simon Reynold's in his book 'Retromania' questions modern societies love of the past - in music, film, clothes and photography. Even modern digital compact/phone cameras make a 'shutter sound' when you take the photograph - this has been added - why?

'What does it say about our era that so many people think it's cool to place these pre-faded, instant-nostalgia filters on the images that will one day constitute their treasury of precious memories? When they look back to the early 21st century, their pics will look like they were taken two or three decades earlier, summoning up a long-lost era they don't have any reason to feel nostalgic about.'
Simon Reynolds 

'The artist's job is to be a witness to his time in history.'

Robert Rauschenberg

All this nostalgia and interest in things that have past is problematic. Robert Rauschenburg believes an artist should be of their times, Roland Barthes felt novelty cameras were merely a distraction and in 'Retromania' Simon Reynolds argues that are own time will be poorer due to our fascination with the past. There is always the danger that this kind of work will be like a mock Tudor house or a Barret home - not showing any originality but giving us what we want, what we know.

Walker Evans Polaroid from 1970's

Throughout history, the vast majority have labelled each age, an ”unquiet age”. Social nostalgia for times gone by has become almost obsessive. Does this spring from a growing sense of anxiety, of unease and dislocation? Has the world grown so complex that the mind and the passions shrink in terror and tremble not only at the future, but at the present? It seems apparent that the most complex societies in the history of humankind are also the most neurotic'.

"The past is a foreign country - they do things differently there"
L.P. Hartley

Nostalgia is the idea of looking at the past with affection. Often people can long for a past that never was - they long for the idea.

Many Photographers will draw on things that they think will be more interesting in the future. The future of photography may not belong on paper - may be it belongs to the pixel?
Vik Muniz - reproduction of a Van Gough out of Pantone paint samples
A digital image is built of pixels that come together to create an image. Early digital images were relatively pixelated and had their own look. Vik Muniz creates larger images out of smaller elements - toys, chocolate sauce and, in the image above, paint samples from a DIY shop. He has recreated a Van Gough painting out of these paint samples warm reds, autumnal yellows and green hues come together to form the image. It works from a distance but is also is interesting close. This work by Muniz looks similar to the work of Chuck Close but also a pixelated digital image.
A close up of a comic showing the beauty of a half tone pattern - see more at 4pc
The four colour process used halftone patterns - small dots built up - to create images in magazines and comics. The half tone pattern has an aesthetic quality all of its own and is now incorporated into design and art work. Will the pixel become a retro aesthetic as digital images become more sophisticated?

Old techniques eventually gain an aesthetic of their own – detached from their original practical purpose. Techniques such as Half Tone patterns for example are used regularly in graphic design and art. Could the humble pixel one day be used for its own sake? Is it happening already? Could the cheapest, 1 mega pixel camera become an ideal creative tool?

pixels - digital pixels - photocopy art - inkjet prints

halftone patterns

pinhole plus link Pinhole camera made out of an old Holga.

'I have always been drawn to what is ending, what will soon no longer exist'