JOSEPH Nicephore Niepce
(1765-1833). Who he? With the instantaneous action of a camera shutter, I
will reveal that he was a photographic pioneer who, in 1826, made, what he
called the "first successful" photograph - a grainy, street view from his
After a few inventions, here and there, into market
exposure in 1910 came Eastman Kodak’s box Brownie with its - some claimed,
wrongly - bottle-glass viewfinder and lens, the last covering a hole, or,
as new technology users knew it, the aperture.
Through it, father, in rolled-up
trousers, and knotted-handkerchief head-covering, was snapped paddling on
some Edwardian beach. Family groups, glaring or smiling painfully at the
camera, were recorded, infant classroom line-ups were fixed for
embarrassed posterity, the subjects looking as cheerful as Transylvanian
peasants socially introduced to Dracula. Gothic cathedrals were recorded
with the family appearing as amorphous blobs in front of them. Weddings,
christenings and anniversary parties with the usual under/over or double
exposures, blurred images and finger-over-the-lens shots were snapped, all
adding to the epic scope of the photographic album.
the world developed a fixation for photography and few camera-users were
without lens hoods, exposure meters and, sometimes, tripods and filters.
Little, from typical Nepalese nose-flute craftsmen to aged Albanian
charcoal burners, with faces like relief maps of the Carpathians, were
safe from camera peer groups with their intrusive lenses, flashlights and
burning passion to finish their films before the holiday’s end.
Generations of snappers have been, as keen photographer, Bernard Shaw
remarked, "like the cod which produces a million eggs in order that one
may reach maturity".
That photographic profligacy is ending. Fumbling
with film and having to wait for its processing are on the way out and
digital cameras that store shots on a memory card for later computer
printing, e-mailing or elimination, have, for over a decade, been taking a
growing share of photographic sales.
Kodak, metering the market, has
seen the production light and is to stop making traditional cameras in
Europe and the United States, but will concentrate its film efforts on
Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and on China, where 60 million
deprived people have yet to buy cameras.
Last year in the US, 12.5
million digital cameras were sold, overtaking film cameras for the first
time; the British digital revolution is not far behind.
Russell, the owner of Edinburgh Cameras, told me that while no other
camera producers had indicated that they would follow Kodak, "they are
likely to go that way". At Christmas, 19 out of 20 cameras sold by his
shop were digital, but he did not believe film cameras would die out. "A
lot of people can’t be bothered to use a computer for processing their
shots and will stick to film."
The new-fangled photographic
world is unsettling for an old shutter-clicker like me, a one-time box
Brownie owner, whose photographs often looked as if taken in a light mist,
appeared lopsided, suggesting a small but lively earthquake or had
telegraph poles growing out of people’s heads.
I am still at the blunt edge of
1950s technology with an aged Leica, whose shutter click sounds discreetly
like a Rolls Royce door closing, a Rolleiflex, once the favourite of press
photographers, and a venerable but still workable Pentax, with a shutter
sounding like the descent of a guillotine blade.
I have also
about 5,000 transparencies, reminders of the virtual disappearance of
once-mandatory social events - holiday slide shows. These could be
exquisite torture. One, I at-tended, showed 150 slides upside down. The
audience vehemently objected to the host reloading the slide carriers as
that would have only prolonged the agony. Some shows lasted for hours.
Viewers’ suffering youngsters, if they had known the words of Moses to the
Pharaoh, might have cried out, "let my people go". I used to count my
retaliatory slide evenings a success if no more than eight people were
asleep, a couple semi-somnolent and a dozen only stunned.
digital photographs can be viewed on computer or TV screens, I doubt if
their displays will have the same formal dignity and duration as slide
sessions for which the ultimate blame must lie with Niepce.
despite my traditional camera viewpoint, I have the easy-to-produce pixel
pictures in my financial viewfinder. Smile please, I’m going digital -
dotty might be another word.