Friday, December 4, 2009

"Take a picture! It'll last longer!"

Of course, back when photography first began with the daguerreotype in 1839, people had to sit still for long periods of time. Plus, it was an expensive process, generally reserved for studios & professionals to conduct. IF you could afford a photo, you wanted IT to last; but you probably didn't forget the memory of waiting for it to process in the camera (ever wonder why people look so miserable in "old-time" photos? Ha ha. Just Kidding!)

Skip Ahead a few decades to the 1880s-1890s & George Eastman, up in Rochester, NY (my hometown; well, the closest big city to where I grew up, anyway). He developed the enduring brand "Eastman Kodak" (generally known simply as "Kodak"), as well as quicker & more accessible methods of photography. Amateur photography EXPLODED in popularity & Kodak became THE name in photo-taking.

Early on in amateur photography, cameras mounted on tripods were still the norm. Though, some cameras were also advertised as "bicycle cameras" (combining another popular hobby of the Victorian era - bicycling), where cameras were mounted on bicycles - no, really. The typical style was still a general "black box." Kodak's popular & rare No. 2 Falcon camera (as shown in this 1899 Earlington Bee ad) is such a camera. First introduced in 1897, this snapshot camera allowed for 12-18 photos, including a name change to No. 2 Flexo.

By 1900, Eastman further followed up on their tagline "You press the button - we do the rest" by introducing the Brownie (shown in this 1906 Springfield Sun ad). This camera was the first low-priced, hand-held, point-and-shoot camera. Held at approximately waist-height, the photographer needed to merely aim, then flick a switch! It was so easy, the claim was a schoolchild could use it! Of course, the low price (some models were available for as low as $1) made it accessible to the so-called "Average Joe."

While people grabbed onto the new and accessible, the "old" did not entirely disappear. To some extent, two extremely popular photographic entities not only survived the advent of amateur photography, but continue in existence today: the professional photographer and 3-D viewers/imagery.

Everybody loves taking their own photos to capture the moment (as much then as now, with the scads of digital photos taking up your hard drive space), but there is nothing quite like the professional who can pose your family "just so" or cover those special events for you when you would rather enjoy the moment rather than worry about catching the candid photo. Though there is nothing mentioned about covering events, H.G. Mattern is such a "reliable photographer" with a gallery in Frankfort - or at least he was, according to his regularly appearing 1907 ads.

Finally, the 3-D imaging. Back in Victorian times, it was NOTHING like what we know today: sitting in a movie theater with glasses, or even watching a blu-ray disc on our HD screens (Hi-Def! HA! As if TVs even existed! Movie theatres were still in their infancy!). No, entertainment of this kind was found in the stereoscope (shown below in this 1906 Mt. Vernon ad). Existing since the 1860s, it was a popular parlor item that involved placing a stereo card (which showed two very similar images) behind the viewer and moving it back & forth until your eyes focused - the image was singular & 3-D!!! The cards often came in collections, and featured tourist destinations or well-known figures, and included stories on the backs. Sound familiar? Yup, later on, in 1939, the same idea was minimized into the View-Master, and used those paper discs that rolled around when you clicked the side, often featuring favorite characters or telling stories. I had a couple of these growing up - and they are still around today! Speaking from personal experience, stereoscopes are just as much fun!

So, while you enjoy the holiday season with friends and family, remember and cherish the ease you have in keeping those memories, thanks to the developments of the past 100 years or so. With all those gigabytes of memory on that tiny SD card in your digital camera, or the camera that comes with your iPhone, don't be afraid to take a picture to keep those memories! It'll last longer!


  1. Check out Ellsworth Lacy's, a photographer in Hazel Green, Kentucky, on page 3 of this issue of Hazel Green Herald. It is by far one of my favorites.

  2. I don't know if that linked for anyone else (it didn't for me). Just in case, here's a direct link to page 3 of the 28 August 1907 edition of the Hazel Green Herald:

    That is a great ad, Crystal! Wish I had found it first! LOL