Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thanks for the memories…

I can never resist a box of photos at auction or at a sale. I am quickly attracted to the people in the photos and immediately conjure up ideas of who they are and what the story is behind them (see why I teach Composition and not Math!).

In today’s high tech world, the photograph still reins supreme in the memory world. Sure, we have digital…fast access to pictures now…no waiting for the film to be developed. But. remember how excited you were when you picked up that envelope at the drugstore or wherever you dropped the canister off.

"Photography" is derived from the Greek words photos ("light") and graphein ("to draw") The word was first used by the scientist Sir John F.W. Herschel in 1839. It is a method of recording images by the action of light, or related radiation, on a sensitive material.

Interest--ingly, the French were the first into the art of capturing images. Joseph Niepce took nearly 8 hours to obtain a fixed image. This grainy picture above is the world’s first photograph called "View from the Window at Le Gras" (circa 1826), taken and developed by French photographer pioneer Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. He called this process "heliography" or sun drawing - it certainly was a long process: the exposure time was about 8 hours.

Louis Daguerre worked for another decade to reduce the exposure to 30 minutes and keep the image from disappearing. He named the technique after himself…the daguerreotype, and in 1839 sold the rights to the French government…and so modern photography was born. Can you imagine holding a position for 30 minutes???

Americans became involved in 1840 when Alexander Wolcott was issued a patent for his camera. In the late 1880s, photos were introduced into advertising, the process was sped up, and the negative technique was invented. In 1884, George Eastman…Eastman-Kodak to be…invents paper photographic film, and in 1888 the roll film camera rolls out of the factory. And every baby boomer will identify with this…the Brownie Camera was invented in 1900 (thank heavens…something older than we are!)

I love this group shot...the teacher looks like she could be Harry Potter's mother!

The 35mm camera came in 1913, the flash in 1927, better film in the 40s, the Polaroid in 1948. and the 70s, 80s, and 90s brought us to the digital world of today.

And a little trivia...In the 1920s, a brass birdie was often used by photographers to grab the attention of children during a portrait session (hence the saying "Watch the birdie") The bird was held by an assistant or parent. The brass base separates into two halves so the bottom of the base could be filled with water. Squeezing the rubber bulb causes the bird to make a whistling and warbling sound.

What fascinates me about all of the photographs I find...who are these people...sweet children...who are probably in their 80s or have passed on by now...or someone's wedding photo? How did it get tossed in a box of photos and end up for sale? I love to study their faces, their clothing, their backdrops...ghosts, but so much alive in my hands and in my imagination.
I had a customer once who bought several old photos, framed them, and hung them in a hallway in her house. That Thanksgiving her relatives started talking about the people in the photos, saying that was Aunt Sadie or Uncle Joseph...she had created the instant ancestors. She never did tell them that she "bought" the relatives for a buck a piece!'s a good thing...made even better by the instant viewer of the computer...but, in the future, what will people have to hold and look at...a DVD drive...a memory card...somehow I am a little outdated...I love the photograph.


Brown Bee Studio said...

I just love old photos too Susan! Thanks for the little history lesson too...I think it's good (and fun!) to learn how a process came to be. XOXO

Cottage Flair said...

Wonderful as always. I have boxes of old photos I have no idea what to do with but also just can't part with. Thanks for the history lesson and beautiful photos.

Miniature Patisserie Chef said...


I love the vintage photos. It adds character and history to the house. Thanks for sharing!

Pei Li

Noelle Garrett Designs said...


I can't get enough vintage photos. My parents are fortunate enough to have boxes full and I adore going over and looking through them and hearing all the old stories. Funny, but I find it fun to look at old photos of strangers and wonder who they are and what their lives were like. Great show and tell.

Anonymous said...

Once again thanks for the great lesson. I too love old photographs and have many of my own family displayed.


Patricia said...

Susan, another great piece of history. I love looking at old photos. My daughter has a passion for cataloging them. We can say do you remember such and such an event and she can go pull the right album off the shelf--amazing to me. But I agree, what are the young people going to shuffle through and remember with, the computer just isn't the same and doesn't convey the age of some things.


cathy said...

I had no idea photos were invented in the 1820's. Another educational, fascinating post!

Carolee Crafts said...

Love the photos, if you are ever in the south of England there is a monthly market that always has loads of these old sepia photos. Can you imagine the stories behind the photo?

Marge of Emmas Nook and Granny said...

Another great lesson to start my Monday. Thanks once again Susan! I just bought a fresh batch of instant ancestors myself!

Brandie said...

Susan, your post is, as always, simply wonderful! I just love coming here and reading your wonderful posts. I love to let my imagination run with old photographs too:)

Michelle May-The Raspberry Rabbits said...

Hey Susan,
I too love old photos. My favorite is my grandparents wedding picture. I'm blessed to actually own my grandmother's wedding dress and seeing her in it makes it even more special.
Have a great day. Hugs,

Inka Smith said...

Hi Susan,

This was a great post. I love old photos and have quite a few of family so I really enjoyed it. Thanks again for another great lesson.

gail said...

aahh Susan,,, I am with you, I love the photograph. That story of the bought family is just hillarious! :) Love the history lesson. HOpe your having a great day. Take care, talk with ya later, gail

Susie said...

Hi Susan! I, too, love old photos and the stories they tell. Another super S & T, thanks!
Susie of The Polka Dot Rose

Janet L Christian said...

Love all those phots esp the bridal one with that long train.

Silena said...

Wow, Susan, what a great photographers all, we can certainly appreciate this wonderful, rich part of our history. And you are so right, there just is nothing like holding all those wonderful old photographs in person.....thank you!!

Sweet Necessi-Teas said...

Susan, I loved the history lesson! Thanks for doing the research and giving us the benefit!
(( )) Karen

Anonymous said...

Great, photos. I'm just like you. I can't resist sifting through a box of old photographs. Just the unknown stories of the people alone, but it's true, you have to use your imagination for most of them. You make me feel old for remembering when I got excited about bringing the photographs home in packets! You mean people don't do that anymore? Ha ha.