A Picture For You
It is thought that the first attempts at capturing images were in the early 1800’s. Early images used different light sensitive chemicals to register patterns of shadows and light onto different materials. One of the first was believed to be a piece of white leather treated with silver nitrate. Over the next 30 years people experimented with a variety of methods.
One of the first preserved images was taken through a window in France in 1826. In 1839 Sir John Herschel used Greek words to coin the word, photography. Photo, meaning “light” and graph meaning “drawing or writing” with light.
Not long after the word was coined, the first known picture of a person is believed to have been taken. Ironically enough, the first picture was a self portrait. Today we would call it a “selfie”. I guess in 170 years we have not come too far in what we like to photograph the most, ourselves.
In those early days, cameras were bulky and required time and patience when setting up to take a picture. But the science of photography developed quickly as more and more people wanted to have their images preserved. Industry of the time also saw the need to preserve images for advertising and to show new clients their process and possibilities.
During the Civil War, Matthew Brady’s pictures captured much of the terribleness of war that our country was experiencing. Photographers arriving after the battles often found the dead distorted by heat and the elements. It is a testament to the development of photographic materials and skills of the men who took those images that those images were preserved.
During that same time, photographers captured portraits of President Abraham Lincoln. Those black and white images show the skill of early photographers to capture the president’s image in natural light. Light and shadows on the president’s face showed the personal pain as war dragged on. Through the lens of camera we see a man deeply scarred as the country was being torn by the war. The still images show the power of photography to preserve what Lincoln must have felt inside.
I have always been fascinated by the images cameras capture. To look through the lens of a camera and decide when to press the button and capture the image is a personal decision. We go on vacation and take pictures of the beach or mountains to preserve the memories of those enjoyable moments. Cameras capture our children at sporting events as they grow into young men and women. Remember those pictures taken in school that show how we looked in each grade from kindergarten to graduation? Place all those picture together and they show our childhood as we grew.
In the 1880s, Kodak developed the process of bringing photography to the public with the development of gel coated film to replace the need for glass plates. Since that first picture, until today a countless amount of pictures have been taken. Weddings, celebrations, and even baptisms have been captured in pictures.
Along with my love of photography, I also began finding old pictures and saving them. Probably at a flea market, while looking for old cameras to add to my collection, that I first saw a shoe box of old pictures. On the outside of the box it was written 10 cents each. I picked up the pictures and looked through them. I realized in my hand I held the story of some one’s family-a story lost in time and now for sale for a few cents. I asked about the pictures and the person selling them said, “If you take the whole box I’ll sell it for two dollars.” I paid the man for the box of pictures.
Over the years I have purchased old shoe boxes, family albums, and bundles of pictures no longer of value to anyone, anyone but me. They may be of no real financial value, but I don’t buy them for the dollar value, I buy them to preserve them for someone else to remember and wonder about the people frozen in the pictures.
I sometimes sit and look at the stoic face in the images. I wonder who they were and what their names were. Unfortunately very few pictures have written on the back who the people were and when the picture was taken. Were they happy or sad? Did they have children? I wonder what they would think of a world where everyone seemed to have a camera, what wondrous things. Photography has captured much of who we are though history.
Last summer, my wife and I were on a day trip to Amish country. As she shopped I wandered ahead of her and looked for things that interested me. Along the back wall a man who I would describe as a professional flea marketer had tables of items collected from old garages and attics. The items were clean and well arranged on the tables. Prices were clearly marked on the variety of objects. As I looked I saw a picture lying near the back of a table. “Old Picture $3.” a small sign had written on it. I picked it up and began looking at it. For a few moments, I became lost in the old image, wondering about the people. The man selling the picture asked “If you’re interested, make me an offer.” I made an offer and he agreed.
The picture was of a man and women. Their clothes indicate the picture was most likely taken around 1900. They did not smile. The man stared almost emptily into the unknown. The young lady appears to be looking at someone, almost wanting to smile. Both are dressed in the finest clothes of the day and sat very still for the camera. The photographer understands the importance of light and shadow in a good picture. The image is sharp and clear with great detail even in their eyes.
Around the lady’s neck she wears a locket. It appears it has a rose engraved on the face of it. The young man is proudly wearing a pin on his coat. It appears to be patriotic pin with a flag pattern on it. Over a hundred years ago these two people were full of life and wanted to preserve their images. That image has been passed down through time until no one who ever knew those in the picture is left to remember and care for the picture. I shall call her Emily and he is William. It is my way to remember them and give them a moment more of life. The pictures I collect and the people in them become part of my family. As long as we each can be remembered, even if only in a picture, we know we shall have lived. Pictures are a precious moment in time-a moment in a picture that I have now shared with you as we look Thru the Lens.