Stacks Image 74
Picture making is changing
Tisdale, January 26, 2014
by Timothy W. Shire
All of us alive today do not remember a time before there were photographs, they are a part of human existence now and have been for a fairly long period of time. Though there were the pioneers the use of drawing with light,” photographs came into being in about 1840 and in its first one hundred years, the process was refined so that it was only eight years before I was born that coloured photography was available to the general public, about the same time the first coloured movies appeared. Throughout its history, there have been some remarkable milestones as capturing light went from having to make an exposure of several hours, down to a few minutes in only about ten years. At first, the pictures were produced directly on a silver coated tin plate, then came the development of using paper and then George Eastman made the leap that put cameras in the hands of everyone instead of just the expert, or the professional. Eastman created film and then marketed it with a preloaded camera.

Now the real issue is not what photographs are, not even how they are made, but why they are taken and what is the subject. In every case it is impossible to separate the technology from the application because the two parts of the process interact with each other and determine what and why, we take pictures.

You see, quite simply, we have for the past eight years been progressing through yet another milestone in the evolution of photography. This one even more profound than the last.

In 1986 our family moved from the Yukon back to Saskatchewan. For the previous ten years we had a darkroom which was busy every Thursday night. as I and sometimes my sons, would process about nine feet of black and white film. I brought the stuff in bulk and rolled my own rolls to go in the three 36mm camera we used at the time. Occasionally, we did some colour and had a really nice Kodak colour printing system, but in 1986 all of the pretty much came to an end.

We introduced a computer into our family in 1981 and for the next five years our Apple // computer systems had taken over our world. The old Apple II+ still worked, but we had a //e and a //c. In the magazines it was clear that video capture was not science fiction and two years later I actually got a card for the //e that could digest video from a VHS video camera. So it was decided, that the darkroom and film photography had come to an end. Our transition was to rely on commercial colour development until we began using digital cameras.

That was a big deal, the realisation that the change was coming even, though at the time I thought still digital cameras were a silly idea, the world was evolving.

In the years that followed we went through the stages. The twenty inch long ten pound shoulder held video camera was the core of our picture taking and the technology was there to make use of it. Video capturing Apple Macintosh computers were a standard part of the computer scene in the early nineties, so much so, the one I had on my office desk in my last two high school principalships, were used to take student portraits, which I then used in my databases and file systems. I used video stills to make newsletters and hockey programs. Eventually, a logitech web cam showed up and shortly afterward our first digital still camera.

From then on, 1995 until today, I have worn out, or retired one digital camera after another. In all cases, I stuck to pretty much entry level cameras, so that the pictures I took and displayed, were not some creation of an insanely expensive piece of technology, but the same kind of camera everyone could own and use.

The first hint of the change came with my son passing on to me his big digital single lens reflex camera, the first version of the Digital Rebel by Canon. You see, he had it and another point and shoot Canon and discovered he was not using either.
He had an iPhone, the very first one, and ever since, he has sold or replaced each successive development of that pocket devise.

Now as soon as cell phones moved from the monster analogy variety, to the
“Star Trek” type flip phone, the makers of them had included a camera. At first, they were not that high in resolution, but they did the job, they took pictures and even movies. With the advent of the “smartphone” the quality of the built in camera, jumped considerably and rivals the megapixel range of the entry level point and shoot cameras.

As 2013 ended, I read an article that declared the end of some
technology items in 2014. The DVD was first on the list, but on the list was the inexpensive point and shoot digital camera. These cameras are now redundant and the camera manufacturers still in business, are pretty much dropping development of these cameras, in favour of much more expensive big lens cameras. Of course that is where the profit is, but it is also, all that is left of the market.

Similarly, the camcorder is just about extinct. Most home movie makers are using their smartphones, or iPads and for the serious video maker, the
mid range and high priced still cameras of today, are what the motion picture people themselves are turning to, when they make a movie. Action has become the realm of the Hero GoPro.

Now that should pretty much cover the technological and physical part of this story, because what we really need to get our heads around is the application of these changing technologies. What is really important is what are we doing with the pictures.

When photography began, it was not the realm of the everyday joe, it required knowledge, skill and expensive equipment. This meant most picture taking was confined to the person who chose to be a professional photographer, or in some cases, people with time and wealth enough, to explore the science and technology involved. As a result, in the beginning and until
George Eastman's Brownie came along, pictures were mostly used to document life. Family portraits, distinguished individuals, or recording historical events, or monumental scenes.

Even after the evolution of the film camera, the function of photography was confined to things of importance, the trivial and whimsical was not affordable. Traditions grew up for families to get a wedding picture, a baby picture, graduations, formal occasions. The picture was important, it was expensive and was honoured as a thing unto itself.

Now the Brownie with its preloaded film of eight pictures and 120 contact print film was a very popular and levelling thing. The ordinary person could capture an image and for the most part they stuck to the conventions of what pictures should be taken. By the way, the beauty of those early film pictures was remarkable, because they were not enlarged and were in fact, contact prints, so the quality, despite the cheap camera and lens, was compensated for with amazing fine grain clarity. Getting a chance to restore images from that era is a true delight.

Families still relied upon the professional to this very day to document our passage through the important events in our Iife. The democratisation of photography did not, nor will it in the future, encroach on the realm of the professional.

In the 1930s, 40s and even into the 50s, people chose to pose their subjects in a classic stand up mode by the team of horses, the car, or pick-up, while the professional in his studio, stuck to a pose that was generated by eighteenth century painters. These cliches in pictures are a language unto themselves and the conventions of picture taking and subject matter are remarkably conservative over time.

By the late forties, the amateur camera was definitely better and the cost of a picture, well within the reach of most people. This meant that the subject matter of picture taking greatly expanded. In addition, for the person who saw picture taking as a hobby, some really outstanding cameras were available, most notably the reflect lens cameras, shooting medium format film. There were also some great bellows cameras, that really made dramatic pictures and were portable.
It was not only the European manufacturers who produced such wonders, but kodak made some great cameras of a midrange cost, mostly using 120 film, while the cheap 620 box cameras were still clicking away.

Right up until the mid 1960s news and professional photographers did their work with huge
Graflex cameras with large format single shot film. The quality of these things was astonishing, as was the noise and confusion created by their equally mammoth flashbulbs.

What changed everything was the size of the film, with improved quality and increased demand, the 35mm camera and it's film, killed off the large format giants everywhere outside the studio. Kodak's Kodachrome was increasingly popular and had fallen in price so that black and white pictures moved from main stream to the amateur darkroom photographer. But it wasn't only Kodachrome, Kodak had an interesting inexpensive film called Ektachrome that use developed for the movie industry and the peculiar phenomena of slide photography emerged.

Slides became hugely popular in the fifties and it is to me a mystery how the whole thing was marketed. These were pictures you could not hold in your hand, or stuff in your wallet, they were images that you needed a projector, and screen and a host of other parphernalia in order to see the picture. So when some one wanted to show you their pictures, it was a major production, setting up the projector and screen, the whir of the cooling fan, fumbling through the slides, getting them in the right way, it was awesome. But people did it, cameras were made just to take slides.
Olympus produced a cool little 35mm camera with a fixed lens and the most remarkable light metering system called the "pen." The cool thing about these cameras was that they took twice as many slides on a roll of film as other cameras. They did this by taking "half-frame" images which looked just fine as a slide.

About this time, Edwin Land came up with a camera with unusual film which included the development chemicals, interestingly enough the film was actually made by Kodak and it was marketed as the "Polaroid". I had one of the original versions and the bought a newer one later, but this was a photographic revolution. You took the picture, pulled out the paper began your count to develop the image, then peeled it open to reveal the picture taken a couple of minutes ago. The reaction of people to their Polaroid pictures was spontaneous and almost always positive. It changed the way we thought about what a picture should be and people took Polaroid pictures much differently then they did with slide or print film.

Though black and white Polaroid pictures were dramatic and since they were contact prints, the quality was way beyond what you would see from your kodak brownie. But, when the colour Polaroid came out, each picture and it's light was a unique and timeless masterpiece. Once again we changed the subject matter and the true snapshot" was born. A picture, that captured an instant of life and preserved it on this one and only print. With Polaroid, each picture was one of a kind. It is no wonder this year you are going to see the return of the Polaroid to the marketplace.

Rich folks had seen the huge potential of motion pictures and even before the war, people had made "home movies" with ridiculously expensive 16mm cameras in colour. But it wasn't until the 1960s that 8mm colour movie cameras hit the market. The leading seller was Kodak, but there were other Japanese camera makers involved. The first cameras used reel film and of course like the slide shows you needed a projector and screen. The quality was excellent, families embraced creating little three and half minute movies of their children and each other. By putting sprocket holes only on one side of the frames and putting the film in a cartridge, the “super8” came into being and made the whole process even easier. In 1969 I bought an inexpensive Yashica super8 and our family movies began.

There is a dramatic social function to taking pictures and that function became even more pronounced with having the choice of still, motion or both. What were you doing when you felt the need to take a picture?

On July 20, 1969 after spending all my time glued to the black and white TV in the summer apartment we were renting in Vancouver, Apollo 11 touched on the surface of the moon and I was overwhelmed with the need to record that moment in my life, not for posterity, but for the feelings I had invested in the idea of humans setting foot on another place, beyond earth. I took the little Minolta 16mm still camera I was using at the time and took a picture of the snowy TV screen, it had to be done.

For all of us who have grown up in the twentieth century, the picture has become the validation of any event. Interestingly enough society as a whole conferred on the idea of taking a picture, as a matter of a certain level of gravity. One evening about ten years ago now, I was struck by the quality of the evening light and set off on my bicycle to capture some street scenes. I stopped downtown and pulled over to the curb and began getting some shots of traffic and street lights and was almost immediately accosted by a member of the RCMP wanting to know what I was doing. He wanted to know where I was from, who I was and was not at all accepting of my explanation, even when I gave him my business card and told him about my web site, which at that time was posted daily. Taking a picture was seen as “something,” there was an assumption that if a person was taking a picture than that moment fit the criteria of some important moment in time.

By the time I began posting Ensign in May of 1998, digital photography was well established and though the cameras at the time recorded images of just better than one megapixel, the shift in content was well underway. With a digital picture, there was no longer any real cost other than you time to make and display the image. What was even more surprising, was that the nature of digital photography was such that almost every image was of an acceptable quality.

I found my attitude change toward pictures and the criteria of what should be in a picture became a new reality. Driving, walking or riding my bike, I would see things in a photographic way and instantly realise that what I was seeing was “a picture.” Not at any time, do I go, or do anything, without a camera in my pocket. Up until 2005 that wasn’t an easy thing to do, because the digital cameras of that time were fairly bulky and not very durable. A dropped camera was almost always a destroyed camera, but nevertheless, there was always a camera at hand.

Clearly, not every one has a web site and those that do, do not have web sites that depend so heavily on pictures for their content, but I have noticed that people all seem to come to recognise the handy concept of taking pictures and that, being part of their lives. The reason I know this to be the case is how people react to the pictures that are being utilised. While shopping in
Canadian Tire store one day I was having trouble finding a product I wanted. I snapped a picture of where it should be on the shelf and took the picture to a clerk for assistance. The person looked at the picture without missing a beat and away we went to sort out the problem. It was for him, common place and just another day in the store, nothing unusual about a customer handing you their camera to ask about a piece of merchandise.

This is what brings us to the present revolution.


While making our way through the iconic Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills I was amused at tourists using their iPads to photograph the scenes and sights, for indeed, my iPad was a first generation one, without a camera, so I did not appreciate the clever nature of this tablet being used as a camera. It wasn’t until this fall when I switched over to an iPad Air and found myself using it to take pictures. I set myself an assignment to do a story for Ensign using the iPad and I was struck by the idea of what it must have been like for the people back in the day of the slow shuttered glass plate camera of the late eighteenth century. What you see is framed in the picture and when to click the shutter, that scene is now recorded just as you see it, no squinting through a viewfinder and wiggling around with a lens to focus the image, just frame the scene and click.

The wonder of being able to create at your whim, a still image, or a movie, is the added plus of smartphones and the
iPad. Once taken, the software makes sorting out the picture, enhancing the image and sending it where ever you want, is all pretty much just a few clicks away.

Obviously with a camera at hand where ever you go and whatever you are doing has changed the subject. The eye witness camera has become a powerful social tool. When four RCMP members murdered a Polish man, Robert Dziekanski, at the Vancouver airport with a Taser they did not count on the incident being captured on video by Paul Pritchard. Each week we see news stories coming from the cameras and smartphones of people around the world. Perhaps one of the very interesting things about the smartphone camera is the invention of the "selfie" which became an official word in 2013. People have always taken self portraits but the presence of the smartphone camera and its ability to immediately send that picture off to the world has created some complex issues. Suicides from children taking selfies of which were later used to blackmail have more than twice made the news in Canada this past year.

Last week a poor guy went to a movie wearing his
“google glass” he had them modified with prescription lens and he used them to view everything in his life. A short while into the movie he and his wife were grabbed by federal agents and questioned for three hours. He was grilled about copying the movie, even though the google glass are essentially a personal computer that you wear, yet they did not have in them, any evidence that he was taking illegal pictures. Believe me, this is going to become a familiar story.

Right from the start in 1998 there was quite a bit of friction from people in Tisdale about my web site and of me taking pictures to post on that site. It did not matter how much I declared my good intentions, those who objected the most had never visited the site and only knew that the Internet was some bad and evil thing. There were even letters to the editor in the local newspaper and more than one hostile confrontation with a few people in town. One neighbour, who did not even have a computer, came banging on the door one evening, demanding to know why I was taking picture so his wife to post on the internet. I was more than a little confused by him as I did not realise a street scene I had taken included a shot of his wife mowing the boulevard.

I am sure you have all come to accept closed circuit television cameras in places of business. These things are everywhere. We have had one pointed out on the street posting a
picture to the web site for more than ten years. A friend in a neighbouring town had a visit from the police about his camera that overlooks his front yard. The visit was prompted by a neighbour who objected to being spied on by my friend’s security camera.

With all the picture taking that goes on today, we really need to re-adjust our thoughts about what is going on and more importantly why it is taking place.


My sons have equipped their daughters from the very time they could speak and walk, with cameras, not just toys, but effective working cameras that make great pictures. What is interesting about this, is what the girls take pictures of and how differently they see the world because of the picture taking.

Like it or not, being literate no longer is related to being able to read and write. Certainly the skills to decoding the printed word are a part of our everyday lives, but so is the need to decode and interpret visual images and graphics in the same way. Pictures and picture taking is a language, a very complex one and we should not take it for granted even though we and our grand children are steeped in the process and our exposure to images increases the subtle graphic and pictorial awareness to the point, that everyone today has an excellent mastery of what constitutes a good and perhaps excellent image.

While this discussion of the role making pictures plays in our lives, we need very much to understand the manipulation of imagery that we also have come to accept almost without question. The first fact about published pictures is that every image, every single one is processed in one way or another. No matter how sophisticated our cameras and the software we use with the picture, we are a very long way from being really able to capture the wonders that we see with our eyes. For this reason photographers at every level strive to create images that capture and re-capture what they saw, that told them when they saw the scene, “that’s a picture.” When you compare the pictures you take and have taken, with those published, you will immediately notice that the dynamics and clarity is simply beyond most of us. What we are seeing is the technical process known as
“HDR” (high-dynamic-range imaging. This is a set of techniques used in imaging and photography to reproduce a greater dynamic range of luminosity than possible using standard digital imaging or photographic techniques.) But this is not the only thing that is in play, technology does not stand still and there is a huge amount of pressure for better and more clever ways of recording a scene.

One of these new things is creating an image that has all the information digitally recorded then afterward the photographer can manipulate the content of the image to have close, or far focus, blurring portions of the image, or making portions super crisp. Curved screens and the fable of 3D will always haunt the photographic world, as will holography, one innovation after another will come no matter what we think or believe. Just as in our lives, we have seen these remarkable developments, count on similar, perhaps even accelerated changes and new ideas will arrive in the immediate future.

As trends go there is an increasing incentive to merge the still image with limited motion. Before there was an Internet a company called CompuServe developed a method of formatting a digital picture so it could be sent over a slow modem. That format is called "gif" (pronounced "jiff") and has been in use since that time. One of its abilities is to display a series of still images so that a tiny movie can be created. In the first few years I made quite a number of these things as animations but the software became out of date and I quit doing them. However, they are back and you will see them on web sites more and more. The animated gif is just one of those things that today's form of picture making has created.

Not since its very beginning, has the process of picture taking been static and all we can be sure of, is that this is what we can expect in the future.