13-Oct-2020 : Early Photography

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This is a bit of a ramble, but please bear with me because I don’t really know where this is going just yet…

I’ve always been interested in photography. When I was very young Dad had a Zeiss Ikon camera – a bit like the picture on the left – which looked like an antique even then and took monochrome 120 roll film to the best of my recollection. I remember being really excited when I was allowed to take the occasional photo with it. Sadly he got rid of it when Kodak Instamatic cartridge cameras became popular and he switched to colour. Family photos never really seemed the same after that.

The first camera I ever owned myself was a Petri FT 35mm SLR, purchased second-hand from Johnstone’s in Hare Lane, Gloucester, in 1972 for the princely sum of £18 – roughly a week’s salary for an office worker (although I was still at school at that time) – saved from my 26p/hour evening/weekend job at the petrol station in Southgate Street.  It was my constant companion for several years, almost always loaded with Ilford FP4 or HP4. It had a built-in light meter but I still had to understand the relationship between film speed, shutter speed and aperture size in order to get correctly exposed negatives.  On one occasion I was lucky enough to be shown how to develop my own monochrome film by one of my school teachers and I clearly remember going in to Johnstone’s with the roll of celluloid and asking for a set of prints to be produced from it.

So all of that was a roundabout way of explaining how my interest in the basics of photography started. To this day I’m still fascinated by the images produced by the pioneers of photography – people like Nicéphore Niépce, Louis Daguerre and Henry Fox Talbot, and all those unnamed photographers who lugged big heavy cameras complete with tripods around to capture scenes from their lives and environments, like those who recorded scenes from the old Wild West, for example.

It’s easy enough to find any number of early photographs using search engines such as Google, but I’ll get you started: https://www.photoblog.com/learn/first-photograph-in-history/ and https://kiwireport.com/25-captivating-photos-wild-west/ (although it says 25, there are over 70 photos in there).

I sometimes wonder what a treasure store of images we’d have if photography had been invented three thousand years earlier.  We’d be arguing over whether Helen of Troy was truly the most beautiful woman in history and we could wonder how the Trojans were ever fooled by that silly Wooden Horse; we’d be able to see the rise of Greek civilisation, Rome being built and Julius Caesar being murdered; we could follow the lives of Alexander the Great, Jesus Christ and Genghis Khan, and the travels of Marco Polo; we could see the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Battles of Hastings and Agincourt, the signing of the Magna Carta, the ‘discovery’ of the New World, the Black Death, the Great Fire of London…